This morning I arrived at ATE’s incredible new Inclusion Centre reporting for work, early morning on what turned out to be a very hot day. Stepping in, I walked into a magic moment; the launch of the ATE SNAP Play Scheme. Looking around, Sarah Livesey, our Operations and Projects Support Officer, was sat with around 10 children whilst our very talented Play Scheme Coordinator Ernestina greeted the group of around 11 mothers and grandmothers.

As time passed more and more women came through the Centre bringing their children and grandchildren. As the children sat on the floor awaiting the upcoming activities and the women spoke amongst themselves, it was exactly what you would expect a fun, warm and welcoming play scheme to be. Initially though, there was no play and limited conversation, with almost nerves amongst everyone. This is probably because most of these women and children are not usually able to access such an opportunity, due to the disabilities and various health conditions affecting these children. Because of this, these children and families are often isolated from their communities, not able to access education, childcare or support.

But within half an hour, all nerves eased and the shy and unsure moment melted away. By 9am there were over 17 adults in attendance and 16 children, from 2 years old up to teenage years.

Ernestina led the session, firstly welcoming everyone and introducing the values of the SNAP Play Scheme to the group, showing them the planning board and explaining terms like INCLUSION, WELCOME, SAFETY AND PLAY. Then the first activity began, as Ernestina explained the importance of sensory activity for the developmental aspect to PLAY. Each caregiver sat on the floor and joined their child or children as glue, card and fabrics were passed around and sensory sheets were made together between child and mother/ grandmother. The next activity to take place was the creation of a ‘playbook’ for each child to create, encouraging the free use of colour and textures, as the children splashed their personalities over the pages to colour, glue and draw.

Looking around the room its as though this playscheme has been in existence for some time, seeing the smiles and pure joy on so many faces; from grandmothers having the chance to be silly, posing for pictures holding up creations made that session, to children engaged with the diversity of colours, textures and activities. Often I caught Ernestina smiling or laughing as she worked with the children and caregivers throughout the sessions and although not a specific play scheme goal, it seems as though the adults took as much from the session as the children.

Before ATE’s SNAP Programme across Lawra and surrounding districts, services and support for children with disabilities and serious health conditions was non-existent, meaning parents and grandparents were locked in a cycle of poverty, unable to secure employment or education as well as any social support from the community. But with ATE’s New Inclusion Centre spearheading the long running SNAP programme, isolation is a thing of the past for these women and children.

By Jessica Cruse, ATE Interim Director of Operations, Written on Tuesday 18th July