Fun, games, sport and support make for a busy year at SELFA

Craven Herald: Chel Scott and Angel Richardson take part in a street art workshop Chel Scott and Angel Richardson take part in a street art workshop

A Skipton children’s charity has gone from strength to strength, providing a lifeline for hundreds of parents.

The Skipton Extended Learning for All (SELFA) has had its busiest year to date, with increased provision of specialist clubs, fun workshops and holidays for disabled, disadvantaged and vulnerable local children and young people.

These activities are in addition to the charity’s well established holiday club and sporting activities run by SELFA’s own sports coach, Sam Pickard.

This month marks the first anniversary of the charity’s AUsome Club, a social skills group set up specifically for children who are on the autistic spectrum.

And among the regular attendees is 11-year-old Jacob Hudson. His mum, Lisa, said: “Jacob has benefited so much from being part of this group. He’s really come out of himself, made real friendships, learned to listen to others and, most importantly of all, had something fun just for himself every week.”

In fact, Lisa has been so impressed with SELFA that she has become a trustee for the charity and, with another parent trustee, Helen Nicholson, has set up a Friends of SELFA group to organise fundraising events.

Helen, whose son, Lucas, has autism, said: “Lucas is really proud at being part of this group. Over the months they have fostered a great team spirit and it is wonderful to see how happy and confident he is as a result – something many other children just take for granted.”

But what makes SELFA stand out is its understanding that it can be hard on the whole family when a child has additional needs or is facing difficult times.

This summer, the charity paid for 12 families, who have autistic children, to attend a special camp, Learning to Listen, on a farm near Wetherby. They spent three days working with horses to help them bond and build essential life skills.

Gemma Dobson, who attended with her family, described the weekend as “an enlightening experience”.

“The trip enabled the kids to be themselves, be independent and learn to ride the horses. It enabled us as parents to meet likeminded people and share experiences. It was nice to feel like we weren't alone and fantastic to see how proud the children were of what they had learnt and the new friends they'd made.”

SELFA also runs workshops each school holiday and this year, it delivered three times more workshops than ever before.

Emma Pears is the driving force behind of SELFA. She created the charity whilst employed by North Yorkshire County Council as the extended schools co-ordinator for the area and, when the co-ordinator posts were cut in 2011, she pushed ahead with the charity to continue the work she had started.

Today SELFA relies solely on grants and donations to deliver its work “Despite these tough economic times we continue to be overwhelmed by the generous support we receive from within the community.”

And she is passionate about the future. “With the help of increased funding, we have been able to triple the number of workshops we have offered, provided trips and increased overall the number of youngsters have supported.

“It’s a big vision but if we continue to be supported in this way I believe next year we could deliver something nearly every day of the year for local youngsters. Well, you’ve got to aim high – look where we’ve got so far!”

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