Their usual day-to-day routines and fundraising activities have been turned on their heads by lockdown and social-distancing measures.
But Leeds groups have been incredibly resilient in overcoming hurdles so they can continue to be there for families who depend on them.
Leeds Weekend Care Association (LWCA) is a case in point.
When the YEP last spoke to the charity during the first lockdown in April 2020, the respite service for families with disabled children was busy coming up with virtual solutions to these challenges.
Since then it has managed to meet up physically with its members outside and more recently indoors.
LWCA manager Liz Sunderland said: “Because the Vine Education Centre, the college that we hire on Saturdays wasn’t available to us initially, we thought out of the box a little bit and got in touch with all of the families. We did a consultation to see if they still wanted the service.
“We have about 150 families altogether. Some of them - about 30 odd of them - are teenagers who go to our Out and About project. The rest of them are roughly five to 14-years-old who go to the play scheme on Saturdays.”
“We wrote to all the families and said ‘would you benefit from still having some respite? But we can only manage to meet in outdoor spaces and go to places like Roundhay Park and Yeadon Tarn and other public parks’.”
The charity also used donations to buy things like rounders and sports equipment as it wasn’t able to access the toys and resources in its usual building.
LWCA planned 14 outdoor events over the summer and only two fell victim to the weather. They also enjoyed picnics in small groups.
It hired West Leeds Activity Centre 17-acre site for outdoor events too. And The Vinery in East End Park was also rented for indoor events.
People who couldn’t get out or who wanted face-to-face support were also helped. Activity packs were also bought for every registered child thanks to donations. These were delivered all over Leeds by staff.
In September they were able to reopen the Out and About project for teenagers. But instead of heading for usual venues like LazerZone, they met once a week for a Youth Club night at The Vinery on Wednesdays.
Liz said: “There were a lot of hoops to jump through, risk assessment and things like that. The group sizes would normally be between 15 and 18 but we have seven to nine children who now come on youth club night.”
She added: “We used two rooms as well. It also means every single child would have one key worker with them to make sure they can remind them about ‘hands, face, space’.”
Then on October 3 they were able to resume at the Vine Education Centre. Groups of 30 have been split into two who occupy different parts on the building during morning or afternoon sessions. But sometimes the numbers have dropped to 12 all day.
Liz added: “The numbers are incredibly low but that’s just the way it will have to be for now. We can’t have 30 children pinging off in all directions like we used to have all day. Yes, it is challenging, but the parents have been sending lots of very grateful emails saying ‘Thank goodness you are doing this’.”
Every child registered at Leeds Weekend Care association got a Christmas gift bag thanks to a generous donation.
Leeds Weekend Care Association got £750 from the Seedlings Foundation, which it decided to turn into 140 gift bags containing things children could do over the Christmas holidays.
Manager Liz Sunderland said: “If the child had gone to the play scheme we gave it to them then, but there were quite a lot of children who were either poorly or self isolating or whose parents couldn’t bring them for one reason or another. It meant that half of those children didn’t get them, so we divvied up the bags and we took them all around Leeds and dropped them off at people’s houses on the Monday before Christmas.”
The children were also encouraged to send in pictures of the things they had done over the holidays, like baking cakes and Christmas gingerbread.
Liz said parents had inundated the ‘Weekenders’ with thank you messages during the pandemic. One couple said: “You have done wonders this year to help our children meet up with their friends and give us as parents a much-needed break. Thank you very much for all your hard work and accomplishments in a very difficult time.”
Their comments were echoed by another parent who said: “Thank you to all the Weekenders team for restarting this much needed play scheme again.”
See www.lwca.co.uk for more.