by Gillian Richardson

This week is all about BBC Children in Need, and if you were watching BBC1 on Wednesday night you might have seen their documentary called ‘Life in Lockdown’. The programme featured the stories of four families who have found this year particularly tough, and we were delighted that they chose to tell the story of how LD:NorthEast helped Coby, Addison and their Mam & Dad over the last few months.

We have two projects here at LD:NorthEast that are 100% funded by BBC Children in Need. Our Early Years Project has been supporting pre-school children with disabilities, communication difficulties and complex health needs since 2012, helping them to learn and develop through play and providing emotional and practical support to their families too. Our #MeTime project provides fun activities and support to the brothers and sisters of those children, giving them the chance to meet up with friends and spend time just having fun!

Lots of families with young children have found lockdown very difficult as restrictions have meant losing out on spending time with family, friends and the usual support networks. It’s had a big impact on all aspects of normal family life.

But for the families we support it’s been especially hard. They have had to continue caring for their child 24/7 without being able to attend any of the specialist support groups, health appointments or social activities they rely on as part of their routine, which has been incredibly lonely and isolating for them. The children have also missed out on vital opportunities to learn and develop by playing with their friends and attending activities like water confidence and movement to music.

The added stress of having a child in the family who has to shield for several months has also taken its toll on some of the brothers and sisters we support. One family told us that their eldest son has been afraid to go to school in case he brings home the virus and makes his sister really poorly.

It’s been a real learning curve for everyone but here at LD:NorthEast we have worked hard to adapt our support during lockdown, and hopefully provide some respite during this stressful time. We have used Zoom and WhatsApp to keep in contact with families on a daily basis; providing individual support sessions, organising daily Sing & Sign sessions for the younger children and some regular quiz nights for the older siblings.

During the first lockdown we offered help with food shopping and medication collection, and we also delivered some little extras like fruit baskets and sunflower growing kits to cheer everyone up. Over the summer we even managed to arrange some socially distanced outdoor meet ups for families and some much needed trips to places like Beamish for the siblings to let off some steam. Most importantly we’ve always made sure we’re available for anyone who needed to talk, either to have a shoulder to cry on or just have a chat over the garden fence.

One of our mums told us “Not only did we have to worry about COVID, and what it was doing to our family and wider community, but I was feeling deeply lonely and afraid that T would really regress in his progress. It was such a difficult time for everyone. LD:NorthEast started to run daily sessions on Zoom and we tuned in every day that we could to sing and sign songs, listen to stories and chat to the other children and families. We also had one-to-one time with the Lead Playworker via WhatsApp video call, emotional support and practical support with food shopping. It was great knowing that LD:NorthEast were still there for us and the sessions have been a lifeline to T and I”.

Without Children in Need LD:NorthEast would not be able to support any of these amazing families during this difficult time. So today make sure you wear your Pudsey ears with pride, share the stories and donate if you can to help fund projects like ours.

#ChildrenInNeed #TogetherWeCan