Founder of disability organisation, Moulding Futures and mother to a child with complex needs, Tracy Shave reflects on the school holidays and Zinc Arts (formally Ongar Theatre Resource), to whom she is eternally grateful.
There is only one week left of the school term and parents everywhere have bitten their nails down to the bone. This is the time we realise that school teachers are shamelessly underpaid and wonder how we ever coped before.
With costs of holiday childcare at rocket high prices, working parents search for the most cost-effective solution, and mums like me just search for an appropriate place with the capabilities of looking after a child like mine.
As a mother of a child with complex needs, the school holidays are quite a stressful time. My son loves not having to go to school, while my hair falls out and grey sprouts in bulk. My son was diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Sensory Processing Disorder at the age of just five. The road leading to that point was like climbing Mount Everest, bare foot with pins in your feet wearing your underwear and a rucksack full of stones. But hey, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and all that (and I know plenty who have been through far worse).
My son is nine now and has come on leaps and bounds. This school year he started with a reading age of just five and ended with a reading age of seven. I’m so proud of his progress and of how far he has come socially. It’s a shame that also during this year he lost his best friend and biggest support, after their parent told the school she no longer wanted him to have anything to do with Jamie. That is another story though.
After such an amazing year, the last few weeks of school become far more unstructured and he always finds it hard. The school holidays present an abundance of problems too – not least the lack of interaction with other children over six weeks.
In school and at home Jamie can cope quite well with one-to-one support. He has an amazingly funny personality; he even has his own “Jamie Shave” channel on YouTube where he posts videos of himself talking. But out of these environments it’s a very different story. He becomes withdrawn, will hit himself and often just faces a wall and starts muttering. He hates it when people look at him, thinks everyone is a “weirdo”, and would rather just go home. Once he is somewhere that can find the right reaction to this, he can settle in and enjoy his time. Finding childcare and activities that work however are not always easy.
The holiday club Jamie used to go to during the holidays closed a few years ago, and the YMCA Holiday club worked for a year but then funding for his one-to-one was refused from 4Children, so he could no longer go there either.
If Jamie doesn’t go to a holiday club he has very little contact with other children, which leads to huge problems in September when he has to return to mainstream education. If he doesn’t go to a club I tend to get ill too. Jamie would rather spend his days at home on the computer, day after day and it’s hard to take him out anywhere.
On the other hand, I need to get out of the house and speak to other adults to keep my own sanity, otherwise I slip into a deep depression by the third week of the holidays – and yes, I do speak from experience.
Last year I found Zinc Arts for the Christmas holidays, and it was like coming across a drinks tent and disco in the Sahara desert.
What is Zinc Arts?
Zinc Arts without Exception is a registered charity and their new arts centre opened in November last year, at Chipping Ongar. Their mission statement explains it all:
“Zinc is an arts organisation which exists to advance and promote the creativity, culture and heritage of disabled young people and adults and socially excluded groups, for the benefit of all.”
This organisation is run by an amazing group of people who know exactly what they are doing. They ooze compassion, energy (even when they are stretched to their maximum) and empathy. Zinc doesn’t just cater for people with disabilities either, they are inclusive to all. They hold a variety of activities and my favourite, of course, is their holiday activities. Last year Jamie went along and it was the very first time I had the delight of picking him up after a holiday activity and he was beaming. He told me how he had helped Tony – one of the workers there – write a song. Jamie had written the words and Tony played the guitar when he performed it to the other children. I was so proud!
That first day, he made some models out of clay with a worker who was an animator. This is what Jamie wants to be when he grows up so he was in his element. The next day was different and he didn’t have as much fun but that’s because he had been expecting the same.
What was wonderful about this holiday activity was that it was full of other “mainstream” children too. Often Jamie finds it hard being around other children with disabilities or those with similar conditions to him.
They have a brunch club on a Saturday morning, which is jam-packed with art activities, then in the afternoon Film Club makes use of their theatre studio. Jamie loves this and I get to sit in the Zinc café, drawing.
I’m really looking forward to this summer because we have a variety of things going on. Jamie has a weekend away with my parents (much needed respite for us both), a trip to Lego Land, and I have booked him into a full day Animation workshop at Zinc along with some of their activity days; to get him out of the house and mixing with other children. I can relax because I know he also has the option of going to the sensory room if it all gets too much and because the staff will know when and how to handle him if he can’t cope. Their team deserves medals, awards, flowers and chocolates galore. I really can’t thank them enough.
Zinc Arts have so much going on; from musical sessions for pre-schoolers, to youth theatre, an inclusive night club for young people, art courses, knitting groups and so much more. They have a variety of facilities to hire including residential rooms for weekend courses, meeting rooms and the list goes on.
At the open day, one of the trustees, Anna Wallbank saw Jamie and straight away asked if he had Asperger’s Syndrome. That was when I realised this was going to be my saving grace. If she could tell by just looking at him and the way he reacted to situations, then they clearly knew their stuff! Finally I had found somewhere I knew he’d be understood. I can’t express how amazing that feeling was; relief, pride; in fact just writing this I have tears in my eyes.
You can find out what is going on, the history of Zinc and the fantastic work they do by going to www.zincarts.org.uk or give them a call on 01277 365626. Book some events, donate money, volunteer, do everything you can to support this life jacket of an organisation.
Written by Tracey Shave