Below, we find out just what makes Square Peg Activities Ltd, based in Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands so important...
What is the charity’s history and background?
Square Peg Activities was officially born in August 2019 but there is a much longer history behind its establishment as a charitable company. Back in 2010, one of the founding members of the charity gave birth to a child who displayed some behavioural issues and was subsequently diagnosed with severe autism, just after she had given birth to her second child (who was also later diagnosed with autism).
The mum set about researching all about autism and local provision. She also set up her own business designing clothes that had slogans and designs relating to autism. The idea was to raise awareness of autism and bring the condition into people’s consciousness. This soon became a thriving business and essentially, a charitable endeavour, as donations from profits were given to small charities. However, provision of support resources specifically designed to help autistic people, their families and friends in the local area were almost non-existent.
This was the impetus required to set up the charity.
What happened next?
In the absence of local provision in the Sutton Coldfield area, and the nearest other support group being 40 minutes away, there was a real drive to get a local provision up and running. Starting up as a ‘stay and play’ support group in a small, local church hall, the charity founders dreamed of opening a café with a sensory play area in Sutton Coldfield. The idea was to enable autistic children and others with different disabilities to come and play in a stimulating environment, while also enabling parents and friends to sit and chat, in a non-judgmental and welcoming environment, about difficulties and issues they faced as parents and family of children with disabilities.
Securing such premises in Sutton Coldfield was simply cost-prohibitive. Undeterred, and rather innovatively, the charity founders applied for a grant for sensory equipment from the Sutton Coldfield Charitable Trust. They received £22,000. Buoyed by this, they then acquired a second-hand Luton van and, with a £5,000 grant from the Heart of England Community Foundation, they boarded out the van and created a mobile sensory room!
What are the charity’s objects?
The charity’s formal stated objectives are to relieve the needs of children with disabilities and/or additional needs by providing physical and creative skills workshops, general support, respite holidays and accessible recreational activities
In short, Square Peg Activities provides a core range of activities for autistic children but also children with other disabilities. It also offers support, advice and guidance for carers and families. Since its formation, the charity has embarked on ambitious expansion plans and has gone from strength to strength, building up their membership of people on the autism spectrum, their families and friends. They provide an increasing range of supervised activities each week and group support for families.
In the words of the Chair of trustees, it has not been an easy task getting the charity to where it is today. It has been a steep learning curve and their plans for growth have presented challenges but the determination, commitment and resilience of the trustee board has reaped huge rewards for the charity and its beneficiaries.
So, what does the charity actually do?
The charity operates from premises at 37 – 39 Gate Lane in Sutton Coldfield. Taking on a lease for the downstairs rooms and gardens of the 3 bedroom semi-detached house at Number 39 in March 2020, they set about developing a sensory garden, largely built by volunteers with funding from the Post Code Lottery and National Lottery.
The sensory garden was an invaluable ‘stay and play’ resource throughout the summer months but it did not fully satisfy the ‘All Day, Every Day’ resource principle that the Board wanted to establish. As it went into autumn, the Board managed to secure funding for a marquee to be erected for a Halloween event. Through good fortune and excellent negotiation skills, the Board then managed to get the marquee left in situ so that they could also run a Christmas event. Hence, they were able to offer access to the sensory garden throughout the winter months and deliver their after school club in their own premises rather than in external hired halls.
In July this year, the Board took possession of the keys on the whole of the next door property at Number 37. Despite the decay, dilapidation and dirt of this property, and after having to gut and refurbish it all with the invaluable help of volunteers and a network of local businesses (shout out to Clarma Property Services Ltd), the premises were amazingly opened just 10 weeks later! This property now affords the charity the luxury of an additional garden, which has been transformed into a forest-themed outdoor space. The property has also provided a much-needed dedicated office space, a tea room and a confidential advocacy room, the funding for the fixtures and fittings of which was kindly provided by the Rotary Club of Sutton Coldfield Vesey and the Rotary Club of Sutton Coldfield Wylde Green.
The expansion has enabled the charity to open up opportunities, expand its offer and run a series of new and exciting clubs, ranging from Toddler Club, which is open to any disabled or additional needs pre-school child and their siblings, through to Home-Educated Club and an after-school Lego club, which is an excellent tool for developing STEM education and encouraging communication for autistic children and stretching flexibility of thought.
There are also plans to launch a Boxercise class to enable beneficiary participants to let off steam, while also learning the importance of discipline, structure and rules. This will be complemented by the launch of a Youth Club too.
NOTE – Look out for their Christmas ‘Sensory Santa’ event. Conscious that autistic children and children with other disabilities often struggle to queue up to visit a grotto at Christmas time, Square Peg Activities has been running its very own themed grotto for the past few years. Themes have included ‘Frozen’, ‘Elf’ and ‘Polar Express’ and for a comparatively cheap charge (£10 for the WHOLE family), kids are treated to an extended and well thought out and magical Christmas experience of arts & crafts, tombolas, raffles and other activities before an eagerly-anticipated visit to the Autism-awareness trained Santa in his beautifully decorated and fabulously unique sensory grotto (Square Peg Activities’ own sensory room located in the Sensory Garden).
What is the structure of the charity?
The Board of Trustees consists of 5 members, who have a mix of skills and all of whom have lived experience of autism, either through their personal or professional lives. Their skill set ranges from operational management and delivery through to safeguarding and policy. What they all have in common is their enthusiasm for Square Peg Activities and their pride in what they have created.
The Board are ably supported by a part-time, paid PA and 2 paid play workers in the summer holidays. There are also 8 regular volunteers, 2 of whom are just 17 years old but are aspiring doctors.
What about the immediate future?
Emboldened by the progress it has already made, and empowered by the impact it has been able to have on its beneficiaries and their families, the charity has expansion on its horizon. It wants to purpose build a multi-functional centre that will enable them to offer a whole range of activities for an extended beneficiary membership. From dance to outdoor play, creative arts, the charity really wants to create an ‘All Day, Every Day’ resource.
To assist in its efforts, any such purpose-built centre would have rentable office space and training facilities, where the charity could continue to provide the new autism awareness training packages it has recently started to deliver to schools, NHS teams, customer-facing businesses and HR departments.
This charity has developed an outstanding reputation and standing in the communities that it serves. Its beneficiaries, its members and its community partners all acknowledge and appreciate the positive impact that Square Peg Activities has.
Here at Social Responsibility, we are genuinely humbled by the awesome contributions that small charities make to our local communities. We are proud to highlight and champion the brilliant work that Square Peg Activities undertakes. We celebrate their work and we genuinely wish all of the team at Square Peg Activities all the very best in the coming year!