Each month we highlight a local charity working to improve our communities. This month we talked to the Log Cabin, an organisation that works with children who have disabilities or additional needs and who often don’t have opportunities to play and socialise outside of school. The Log Cabin, located just down the road from Northfields tube station, endeavours to fill that gap for the children of Ealing.
Tell us about the Log Cabin.
The Log Cabin makes a positive difference to the lives of children and young people who have additional needs or disabilities or who are in need, by providing exciting and stimulating play and socialising opportunities in a safe, caring, inclusive and fun environment. Working all year round with those who live or go to school in the Borough of Ealing, we encourage children from age 0 to 19 to develop physically, socially, intellectually, creatively and emotionally.
Our minibuses mean that those from economically deprived backgrounds with no access to private transport, and who are unable to use public transport, are never excluded from our sessions.
Our activities include sports, active and group games, dance, music and drama, soft play, computer-controlled sensory play, role-play, gardening and cooking, quiet games and arts and crafts. We have a large outside area with a big climbing structure, trampoline, water play, sand and a multi-use games area.
We also provide free counselling sessions with a trained counsellor for parents and carers of children and young people with disabilities and additional needs, and for young adults aged 14 and up.
We know that we help reduce the stress of managing disability within the family unit. We provide year-round inclusive short breaks (respite), childcare and play and socialising opportunities for around 300 children and young people.
What is meant by ‘children with additional needs’?
The children and young people we support at the Log Cabin have physical or sensory impairments, learning and emotional difficulties and challenging behaviour. Many have autism and some have complex health needs. More than 50 percent have severe and multiple disabilities and need one-to-one support from our staff and volunteers. A few need two supporting staff because of exceptionally challenging behaviour.
Many of the children we work with live in high-rise flats and areas with no recreational facilities or access to safe open areas monitored by adults, and 56 percent come from Northolt, Acton and Southall—areas of multiple deprivation ranking among the 20 percent most deprived in England (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister 2004). We have some looked-after children, and some on child-protection plans. Some live in temporary accommodation, and 69 percent come from black, minority ethnic and refugee backgrounds.
What are the challenges such children and their families face?
Disabled children and young people consistently say that leisure and play outside school is the most important missing element in their lives (Contact a Family, April 2010). They feel isolated in the outside world, where they face negative attitudes, and a lack of respect and understanding. They have difficulty in negotiating social situations such as dealing with conflict, cultural differences and discrimination, leading to a lack of confidence and self-respect.
Children want to make friends and have fun, and to participate in activities that those without disabilities take for granted. Ordinary parks and playgrounds and other sociable meeting areas cannot cater for individual needs, as lack of appropriate support is a key barrier to those with issues such as access, needing help with personal hygiene, using equipment or relating to others. It means that constant adult supervision is required. Because we are the only purpose-built play setting for these children, the demand on our services is also growing.
Children make friends, engage with others, and learn to share and respect one another. We help them to feel empowered, gain a sense of achievement, and an awareness of their own worth. Playworkers act as positive role models for the children, help to improve children’s resilience and self-esteem and enable them to develop a sense of independence. We help children to deal with significant life changes and challenges and to learn skills that will equip them to cope with life in the future.
Children learn that everyone can take part regardless of ability, and we encourage improvement in coordination and fine/gross motor skills, balance and spatial awareness. Every activity is wheelchair-accessible. We offer them the freedom to explore, make decisions and take risks, safely supported with dignity and understanding by caring, trained adults, in secure, stable surroundings that can be a contrast to their living conditions.
The Log Cabin is inclusive, so that some mainstream siblings and other children also attend. We are very successful in encouraging children of all abilities to integrate, and activities are often planned with groups in mind, to encourage sharing and friendship; everyone loves seeing a mainstream child, a child using a wheelchair and another with severe learning disabilities enjoying a game together. A parent said, “Other children don’t treat disabled children as a joke, and learn to accept them.”
What obstacles does your organisation face?
Obstacles include fundraising challenges—because of the nature of the children who attend, costs are very high. We use as many volunteers as we can, but still have very high ongoing costs.
Transport is always an issue—we provide transport to children from all over the borough, to allow access to everyone who’d like to attend. This is a free and much-valued service but there are always more children requiring transport than we can accommodate.
We have an ever-higher proportion of children who have exceptionally challenging behaviour. We often have children referred to us once the family is in crisis and needs the respite, and the child—and his or her family—has reached breaking point. We never turn away a child.
What are your funding sources?
We receive a grant from the London Borough of Ealing, which has been cut by 50 percent in the last year. Social Services funds some of the children who come to us, although they cover only around 75 percent of the cost of each child’s place.
We apply for grants from a wide variety of trusts and foundations, and are fairly successful; but few of these grants, helpful though they are, are for longer than a year, which makes sustainability difficult. The local community is stalwart in its support for us, and local businesses and individuals alike raise money for us throughout the year, for which we are very grateful.
Do you hold fundraising events?
We try to hold one or two fundraising events each year, which raise both money and the profile of the Log Cabin. These are very time-consuming to organise, however. We have just held a Quiz supper, which was sponsored by Northfields Estates, and we held a Family Fun Day in the summer.
How can people get involved?
People can volunteer and support us in many ways. They can work with the children or they can do administrative or outside (gardening or handyperson) work.
Some people set up small fundraising events of their own and give the proceeds to the Log Cabin. We are always delighted to receive donations as well; some people very kindly set up a monthly standing order; others donate through Justgiving, or send us cheques. More information is available on our website (www.logcabin.org.uk).
We never fail to acknowledge people’s kindness, and every penny goes to supporting the children and young people with disabilities and additional needs who come to us from all over the borough, all year round.