The Story Behind Creatasmile

We recently carried a feature on the fantastic work of the Creatasmile charity in Conwy, following the opening of their new Benjamin’s Tea Rooms, at the Old School House in Towyn.

Here we speak again to Sharon Bateman, one of the founders of Creatasmile, on the ideas and motivation behind the charity which has been supported by the Steve Morgan Foundation.

*

It was thanks to Sharon and Edward Bateman’s son Benjamin that they first set out on the long journey towards what the Creatasmile charity is today, helping so many young people with autism and their families from across North Wales.

So, it is only fitting that the new tea rooms launched by the charity, to include training for those young people to gain a qualification in catering and hospitality, should be named Benjamin’s Tea Rooms.

And also even more fitting that Benjamin is among the first group of young people training for one of the accredited AGORED qualifications available for youngsters aged between 13 and 26, who would not otherwise be able to access such training.

“We set out in 2009 when Benjamin was diagnosed with autism at the age of four,” says Sharon.

“At that time we were like: ‘O-k, where do we go now’?

“There didn’t seem to be anything out there locally for the families of young people with autism or learning disabilities.

“There were some groups available, for example to do trampolining for a six-week period, and then finish.

“And you can’t really have that for children with learning disabilities and autism because they need continuity.

“When we were out and about, we were getting stared at a little bit because of Benjamin’s behaviour, and sometimes we still get that now.

“People might look at us like we are bad parents and he is a really naughty child, and so it was a case of looking for something which could help not only ourselves but other families as well.”

At this time Sharon was sitting on a board for a leisure centre which had been built up following the floods in Towyn in 1990.

Having seen a prototype of an adult youth club in operation for older children, she felt that there was an opportunity to recreate something similar for those diagnosed with autism.

The go-ahead was given and so, along with husband Edward, and the then Chairman of the organisation Bill Darwin, Creatasmile was born.

Support was secured from the council, the doors were opened, and within three months, even with only once monthly meetings, no fewer than 89 families had come forward.

From there the charity has evolved and grown, ultimately securing their own premises at the current venue and also branching out to deliver sessions in local schools.

The Steve Morgan Foundation helped out with a grant of £10,000 back in 2013.

And then, Benjamin’s Tea Rooms.

A wonderful idea, not only to raise funds but also with the training which will see young people learn a skill and secure a qualification.

Funding from Global Radio’s Make A Noise campaign set things off, alongside ongoing backing and now help with rental charges from the Steve Morgan Foundation whom, in Sharon’s words, ‘have been with us every step of the way’.

“I looked at part of our building, and I just could just picture having a tea room here,” Sharon explains.

“The whole idea is that when the children who use our charity get to the age of maybe 13, they don’t want to do any family fun sessions or similar.

“But we don’t want the services to just stop at that point. What happens next?

“There are still lots of children who find it difficult in mainstream education and those at special needs schools don’t always have the opportunities to get a qualification.

“We can teach them every aspect of a working tea rooms, and have an allotment over the road where we grow the produce which we use in the tea rooms so can show the full circle.

“Even the tills in the tea rooms are adapted for those young people who learn through pictures, and not phonetically.

“Rather than being socially isolated, and maybe struggling to succeed at school, what we want to say to the young people is that, regardless of any disability, they can still reach their full potential.

“There is no reason why these young people cannot achieve, and already we have some people signed on to study the qualification, including Benjamin, who is very bossy and already thinks it is his café!

“There are so many young people with autism, and sometimes it has been a tough journey, but lots of families have been through that journey, and it almost feels that us having Benjamin has helped to make a difference.

“If we can continue on this journey side by side with other parents, we can all help each other, and we are living these situations 24-7, it isn’t just about picking up information from a textbook.

“No matter what anyone’s disability is, they should be able to achieve and have a quality of life, and that is what we are all about.”

*Jane Harris, Regional Grants Director with the Steve Morgan Foundation, recently attended the official opening of Benjamin’s Tea Rooms along with representatives from other funders and local dignitaries.

More news

Top