One in a Million – Emily Riley

Emily Riley is one in a million. 

The 23-year-old has cerebral palsy and is one of the one million people already helped by the Steve Morgan Foundation Covid-19 Emergency Fund since it was launched in March 2020. Here’s her story:

Emily Riley was born nine weeks prematurely and her mum Karen Turner-Riley recognised her daughter wasn’t making the sort of progress she was expecting.

Her older daughter Shannon had also been born prematurely but Karen’s instincts told her something was wrong.

“Because Emily was bright and chatty, it took time for her condition to be confirmed,” said Karen, recalling the moment when her daughter was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

“I knew about cerebral palsy as I had previously seen a really good documentary called Standing up for Joe so I started doing more research about what we could do to help Emily,” she said.

Eventually she found a brilliant conductive education service in London but the annual £11,000 a year price tag was more than her family could afford.

She looked for something closer to their North West home and that’s when she found the Stick ‘n’ Step charity in Wallasey, which provides free conductive education sessions to children and young people with cerebral palsy. It was a discovery that transformed her youngest daughter’s life.

“I used to hold her steady and help her walk using her sticks saying ‘stick, now step, stick now step’, and then suddenly she was doing it without me holding her,” recalls Karen who works as a teacher. “It was a magical moment. 

“Emily’s independent mobility has made a massive difference to her over the years in so many different ways.  She has a set of sticks at the top and bottom of the stairs and can now get up and down the stairs on her own.”

Neary 20 years after first attending Stick ‘n’ Step, Emily is still going. Despite studying a degree in travel and tourism at UCLan, in Preston, she still makes sure she attends her Saturday sessions.

Emily, who is a big fan of the theatre and music, said: “Because Stick ‘n’ Step has massively increased my confidence and mobility, I am now able to choose the seats I want in the theatre as I can use my sticks to get to there. I don’t have to use a wheelchair.  

“This is so important for me and is just one of the many ways that my life has changed for the better thanks to the amazing classroom team at Stick ‘n’ Step.  Over the past 15 years the classroom team have given me so much encouragement and built my confidence to a point where I really believe I can do anything I want”. 

Emily has had to overcome a rare form of epilepsy that affected her speech between the ages of eight and 12. 

“It’s really hard to explain just how much of a difference Stick ‘n’ Step has made,” said her mum. “It’s life-changing when I think about it.  I really don’t know where we would have been without their support. We would also probably have had to move house. I wouldn’t have been able to carry on working, so there would have been financial implications and a strain on the whole family. Emily would probably have ended up attending a special school and might never have had the opportunity to go to college.”

Emily agreed: “I can never thank the team at Stick ‘n’ Step enough for what they have done for me,” she said. “I am currently doing Aqua Zumba, pilates, yoga and go to the gym. I love going to festivals and concerts with my sister Shannon. A few years ago I went on a trip to Amsterdam with my college group. This was the first time the college had taken a disabled person on a residential trip, and I can’t imagine that I would have been able to go on the trip had I not gained the independence that I have. 

“I look back now on how the sessions were structured when I was much younger and can see that all the manual dexterity skills I was being taught then, are now enabling me to live my life so much more independently than I’d otherwise have been able to do.”

However Covid-19 left Stick ‘n’ Step facing a double whammy of having to stop their face-to-face sessions and looking into a financial black hole.

With 112 people aged from 0-25 on their books Stick ‘n’ Step had never been more in demand until coronavirus struck.

The charity doesn’t receive any government funding so has to raise £660,000 themselves. 

When Covid-19 hit they furloughed some of their staff but didn’t want to stop all their life-changing work so used technology to carried out virtual sessions after receiving £21,000 from the Steve Morgan Foundation.

Karen said it was a massive relief that Stick ‘n’ Step were able to continue through virtual sessions.

“Emily was quite anxious at the beginning,” said Karen. “However the virtual sessions have helped keep the group together. We’re very grateful to the Steve Morgan Foundation.

“Emily decided to take part in the ‘2.6 Challenge’ on behalf of Stick ‘n’ Step and resolved to walk 2.6 miles with her walker. Not only has she now raised £710 but she’s up to eight miles. That wouldn’t have been possible without Stick ‘n’ Step.”

Philanthropist and businessman Steve Morgan announced in March he would be giving up to £1m a week to charities in Merseyside, North Wales and Cheshire faced with a cashflow crisis as a result of Covid-19.

In the first eight weeks the Covid-19 Emergency Fund has made more than 400 awards to frontline charities – including Stick ‘n’ Step – helping over one million people in the process.

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