Unique way to care

Unique Kidz and Co founders and trustees Jane Halpin (left) and Denise Armer.
Unique Kidz and Co founders and trustees Jane Halpin (left) and Denise Armer.
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The old adage ‘If you want something done, do it yourself’ has never been more appropriate than for these two mums from Lancashire.

In response to the lack of suitable childcare for disabled children, Jane Halpin, from Bolton-le-Sands, and Denise Armer, from Warton, set up a unique charity to help parents in a similar position to themselves.

Despite never having experience of setting a charity or working in childcare, the pair created Unique Kids & Co in 2009 to provide specialist services for disabled children, young people and their families.

Speaking from their offices in Lancaster, Jane, who’s 14-year-old daughter, Connie, suffers from neurodevelopmetal disorder, Rett Syndrome, says: “We’re always thinking about what to do, we never stop.

“We’ve only been running three years and we’re already out of a box bedroom into these offices.

Jane and Denise met through the parent group at their children’s school. Although groups and after school clubs were available, they weren’t regular enough and not what they were looking for.

After one meeting, the mums took over and decided to start up the charity.

Denise, whose 11-year-old son has autism and her eight-year-old has severe learning difficulties, says: “Jane heard an advert on the radio that Lancashire County Council’s SureStart were giving out start up funding for childcare so we approached them about that and haven’t looked back.

“Unless you have a child or somebody in your family has a disability you never fully understand the impact it can have on your lives.

“It is incredibly isolating and very challenging and a lot of the challenges that you’re up against isn’t always to do with looking after your child, a lot of it is red tape, trying to find the right school, trying to get the benefit.

“I was quite quiet before all this happened, I have two boys with special needs and I learned quickly that if I didn’t speak up, nothing would happen and going into a room with professionals talking about your child is very hard.

“Some parents manage to do it and others struggle and I’m not surprised because it is very, very difficult.”

For parents who are struggling to find their feet, Denise and Jane are here to help.

Denise said: “We do want to work with parents and do courses on parenting skills for those with disabled children and work on confidence building .

“There was a time when I couldn’t have talked about my daughter because I would have been in floods of tears and out the door.

“Running Unique Kids has helped us to forget the challenges we have to face.

“We’ve changed into different people, we’ve been asked to do talks, we’ve been to The House of Lords and Houses of Parliaments, we take part in forums and that’s another avenue we want to keep going.”

In 2010, Unique Kidz & Co was rated ‘outstanding’ in its first OFSTED inspection and has since become a ‘lead practitioner’ in the county. It has also attracted significant Children in Need funding.

It was because of the help from Children in Need that Jane was invited to Downing Street earlier this year.

She says: “We were invited to a reception with Samantha Cameron - I didn’t believe it!

“I spoke to Gary Barlow, Peter Andre and Fearne Cotton - I had to because Jane would have killed me if I hadn’t.

“If you don’t do these things you’d regret it and we’ve met some amazing people who work for charities and social enterprises in the process.”

The charity, which needs £150,000 a year to keep running, recently won an Enterprise Vision Award (EVA) for New Business of the Year and Selnet Award in the Small Social Enterprise category.