How Family Fund has helped us and how they could help you!

A Little Bit About Family Fund

LogoFamily Fund, like so many other charities, helps families like ours across the UK. If you are raising a disabled or child who is seriously ill and they are under the age of 17 and are on a low income, Family Fund may be able to assist you as a family or the individual child.
Last year, Family Fund provided over 88,000 grants and services worth over £33 million to families across the UK but without regular money coming in and we were one of those families. Thanks to their kindness and grants, we have been able to proper time together as a family.
Family Fund was first established in 1973, and the first grant of £26 for hospital visiting costs was issued on 1 April 1973. In 1996, Family Fund became an independent charitable trust. Today, they are funded by the four UK governments, private donations and income they generate through the work of their Family Fund Business Services

Our Story

20170815_193603We discovered Family Fund through our son’s Occupational Therapist. We wanted to go on a proper family holiday, but having recently given up work to care for our disabled son, we only had one income, and it was a struggle. So we discovered Family Fund, and I was pleasantly surprised by how straight forward the application process was. Our application was sent via the post with the supporting documentation, and it was roughly four weeks before we had our first approval. We’d applied for a Haven holiday voucher. Like most charities, you have to have a particular item or holiday in mind when you apply. They offer Ipads, white goods, garden modifications, holidays, clothing, just to name a few. You can apply, however, to change your funding once it has been approved if you want to change your award. We have never requested two items, but I have friends who have applied for money towards a holiday and garden equipment like a trampoline.
Once the voucher is awarded. It takes seven days to be credited to Haven or the appropriate holiday provider. Our first voucher we’d already booked our trip, so I called up and told them about our award, and they credited the amount to our holiday. This has since changed, and you can’t use the voucher for any holidays already booked. You can, of course, book two trips and use the voucher towards both.

What it has given us

We are no longer cramped in a budget hotel, in one room having to go to bed at 9pm with our son, having a caravan provides us with the flexibility to put him to bed and sit in another room and spend time with our daughter. We have found both Haven and Perran Sands to be so accommodating. Thomas is sensitive to noise, so we have always requested a caravan away from the entertainment centre. For the first time, this year have requested an accessible caravan as it was a struggle last year.
We have used Family Fund now for three or four years, I logon to our online account and once a year request a Haven holiday. They limit you to once a year applications for obvious reasons although in exceptional circumstances the may accept a further application.

How can you help them

It is often underestimated how much it can cost to raise a disabled child. In fact, on average, it costs three times more to raise a disabled child compared to a child without additional needs. Family Fund understands this and is committed to help families, improve their quality of life and help them feel included. A big key to their success is fundraising. 
Every penny raised will help Family Fund continue to develop and deliver new ways to support families raising disabled or seriously ill children. 
Whether you fancy hosting your own Messy Tea Party or Dress Fun Friday on the 21st June 2019. There are still so many families to help! Please check out their website for more information about how you could help.
If you have any questions about donating to, or fundraising for Family Fund, you can speak to their Fundraising Team on 01904 550033 or email fundraising@familyfund.org.uk.
*We are not affiliated, associated, authorised, endorsed by, or in any way officially connected with the Family Fund or Haven Holidays.*

Navigating Legoland Windsor with a Special Needs Child

What is Legoland Windsor?

Now, if you are from the UK. Most of us have at least heard of Legoland Windsor. It is a Merlin Attractions owned theme park in the Berkshire countryside, within an hours drive of London (traffic permitting). It is influenced by Lego and is ideal for children under the age of 13. Rides range from pre-school to primary school. If you like thrills and rollercoasters, you may be better visiting nearby Chessington World of Adventures or Thorpe Park.

Costs in Involved

Like most theme parks, Legoland isn’t cheap and the average price per ticket is £50-£60 per person. Under 3’s go free. They often do deals with Kelloggs, where a parent gets in free with a visiting child, this is usually towards the summer months but can offer significant savings.

My daughter and I have Merlin Premium Annual passes (Please see my other post on perks and costs involved). She’s nearly 12 and loves theme parks, so I invested in Annual Passes last year. My son has special needs and I’m not currently sure, whether the cost of the annual pass would be worth it (watch this space). My husband gets in free as a carer. So entrance wisely it cost us £15.00 for our son as we used a Friends and Family discount (perks).

I would suggest booking in advance as you could save up to 30%.

The Disabled Visitor

Driving towards the Legoland car park is easily signposted, I especially love the extra touch of mini lego characters. Disabled parking is located near the premium parking and right at the front of the entrance. We couldn’t have parked any closer. The picture of us in front of the blue railings is a foot in front of our car!

Like most theme parks now, you are greeted by security doing a bag search. They are lovely and high fived us all through the gate and at the end of the day are for our own safety.

To the average family, a trip to Legoland is like any normal day out but to a child with special needs, it could be all kinds of hell. Long queues, long noises from all directions, music, lots of people, unfamiliar surroundings, I could go on. But why should learning difficulties or social disorders stop our children from experiencing the norm? Especially when Legoland Windsor assist in helping cut out a little of the stress.

Thomas is eight years old now and I want him to experience things that other children his age do, just with support and a lot of advanced planning. I had heard rumours that Merlin and Legoland especially had changed their Ride Access Pass. I was keen to understand how it would work and why a few families were upset with the change.

With hindsight, I should have pre-booked our ride access pass, as that queue was empty and we spent 15 minutes with a distressed eight-year-old! The man at the Ride Access Pass explained all the details and we went on our way.

The Q Bot System

So the new Legoland version uses the QBot system. It’s basically a virtual queue. So for example, we love The Dragon rollercoaster and reserved our ‘space’ in the queue. It gave us 30 minutes, so we found a couple of five-minute queues and the time raced through. It did get busier and we found that by 4pm, the thought of waiting 45 minutes to get on any of the rides was just too much but I like the system. It’s a phone based system (remember battery charger although you can borrow phones). There are limitations, I agree it would be handy if one queue is 45 minutes that you could be able to add a second ride.

So our time counts down and we approach the ride through the Qbot entrance, pretty much enter straight away and don’t feel guilty for queue jumping as we have been queuing ‘virtually’ for the same time as the people at the front of the queue. It is however frustrating when your child wants to go straight back on but the queue is 40 minutes! That being said, I do like how it works, it probably won’t work for everyone but have a snack, drink, toilet break, face painted, lunch, look around the shops, it soon ticks down.

Ninjago: The Ride
Ninjago: The Ride

Staying Over

Legoland Windsor is a resort with two onsite hotels. The Legoland Resort Hotel includes everything for the die-hard Lego fan including The Bricks Family Restaurant and themed rooms, while nearby you can spend the night with Knights and Wizards in the Legoland Castle Hotel. Added bonus staying on site, closer to the park and an extra 30 minutes park access to some of the rides.

If you can’t stretch your budget for an onsite hotel, there are plenty of nearby budget hotels including Hilton Bracknell and The Copthorne Hotel both which are in easy reach of the park.

A Few Negatives

There has to be a few right?

  1. Now TV giving away free sticks – Now I’m all for a freebie but we passed them five or six times and it grew irritating!
  2. Some rides need an update. Vikings’ River Splash for example, we barely got a dribble of water on us, the bucket had been removed and nothing sprayed water anymore, it was a little disappointing.
  3. The NEW Wafflemeister – I love a good waffle, who doesn’t? I was excited to see one at Legoland Windsor, however, it should have come with its own queue time! I left the queue after queueing for ten minutes without moving!

My Top Five Tips for Navigating Legoland Windsor

  1. Pre-Visit – Check out Legoland Windsor Resort for all the update news, opening hours, new attractions or any ride restrictions.
  2. Pre-Visit – Make sure you have a fully charged phone and bring a second portable battery charger. My S9 lasted until 1.30pm before I needed an extra charge during lunch.
  3. During your Visit – Have fun, it is such a lovely family day out, there is a changing places accessible toilet in the main Heartlake City area and various disabled toilets dotted around, that need radar keys.
  4. During your visit – If it gets too much and you need a time out, there are plenty of picnic spots, with grassy areas to chill out or maybe take a look at the Total Sensory Space, its located in Heartlake City and is perfect for chillout. Unfortunately, during our visit, it was quite busy so I struggled to take photographs. There are a few on Legoland Windsors Resort. 
  5. After your visit – Don’t forget to download photographs (if you have any) and consider your next trip.

So there are a few of my tips for navigating Legoland Windsor with a Special Needs child and probably for most children under the age of seven.

Conclusion

Despite our original reservations, we managed a full day in the park. We tried out the City Walk Pizza and Pasta Buffet for lunch and wasn’t disappointed, we even saved 20% due to having Annual Passes. It’s all in the planning, taking the day as it comes and having no expectations. We’d already made the decision that should he struggle after an hour we would call it a day but he loved it. I can’t thank the staff enough, they were all accommodating, happy to help and on hand if we needed any advice.

Have you been to Legoland Windsor recently? Did you love it? Did you hate it? Do you think the Q Bot system works as part of the ride access pass? What do you think of the Merlin annual passes? Please drop me a comment below or click follow to read more posts like this in the future!

Thank you for Reading…

My Weight Loss Battle Update 1

My Weight Battle 2*All opinions are my own, I have not been sponsored, paid or gifted any items in respect of my views and opinions.*

So it’s been three months! Three long months of counting calories, watching every little crumb and I’ve pretty much lost 5lbs. Okay, can’t complain an awful lot as lost but still! Unfortunately, I like to see results! Getting on those scales, I want to see a loss than I can feel celebrates the week I had rejecting cake!

As per my previous post My Weight Battle I’ve done it all. So I read an article that like many diets ‘Weight Watchers’ had rebranded and I thought ‘what the hell’ let’s give it a go. Week one is going okay, trying to get into the swing of meal planning. I’ve found that I find it hard to stick to such a restricted ‘point’ system. Even with the flexible points, I find myself torturing myself if I even slightly dip into them! (I know, bad attitude).

jennifer-burk-118076-unsplash (1)My first ‘proper’ weigh in, was this morning, I say proper because I had a sneaky one yesterday! (I know I know). I find with Weight Watchers, I lose but slowly. I rarely lose more than a lb a week.

I’d like to know if I found time for the gym (and could afford it) would it make a difference? I’ve previously wasted my money with a gym membership that cost me £45 a month and I went once or twice a month, then not at all. I am much more motivated in the morning, after work I just want to chill out and relax not go and sweat it out in the gym! I also feel incredibly self-conscious surrounded by skinny beauties because no one seems to use my local gym unless they are a size 6! I know, it shouldn’t matter, but it’s hard not to look around and feel like a giant elephant as I thump away on the treadmill.

I walk! During my lunch break, I march up the road, for ten minutes and back again. It’s what I miss about working part-time for the last few years, I was walking every day for at least 40 minutes! Now, it’s impossible apart from weekends! Although, this weekend I was on fire!

So a little bit about Weight Watchers. It has recently been redesigned and is called WW Freestyle. Unlike the traditional group meetings, there is now an option for a ‘digital’ membership. I have opted for the ‘digital only’ version as it works for my lifestyle. The idea is, you start with zero point foods and then add the points as you go. Adding a little exercise for good measure. Everything you do is awarded with WellnessWins. From tracking three meals a day to your daily activity. I am liking the new layout, digital membership and its a bonus that it connects with my Fitbit!

alora-griffiths-750409-unsplash

So three months in and I’m still giving it a go. Another three months and the gym might be introduced! Anyone else currently doing Weight Watchers? Is it going well? Perhaps you struggle like me!

Thanks  for Reading…

Juggling Work with a Special Needs Child

Juggling Work with a Special Needs Child (1)I came across an article recently where a parent/Mum spoke about her constant juggle with her home and work life balance. It got me thinking about my own work/life juggle. If you would like to check out the article written by Tania Tirraoro please check it out here at Special Needs Jungle.

I’m not going to lie, I wanted a career! It was important to me, it was one of my life goals. Happy and content mum means equally happy and satisfied children! I wanted it all… excellent career while juggling childcare and home life. For the most part, it worked, after having my eldest (11) I had no choice but to return to full-time work. Unfortunately, mortgages don’t pay themselves! I was lucky my Mum worked afternoons, so she had my daughter all day on a Monday and every morning. It was a life saver, as my employer was far from flexible. Childcare was one of our most substantial expenses and even with my mum’s help, it was still over £800 a month!

For three years, I worked up the career ladder, moved companies and continued to juggle family life. After having my son (8) things were going to be very different, he was born with Strep B and developed meningitis at three days old, please see my other post ‘My Son was Born with Strep B’.

Suddenly I had a baby that needed physio, occupational therapy, consultants, tests, scans, hospital appointments and needs beyond an average child. I was ever hopeful that my employer would understand my need to work part-time, it wasn’t your average circumstances. I didn’t return to my old job, it was no longer suitable and for a year I muddle along. I quickly realised how I saw flexible working, wasn’t how my employer did. I was continually taking holiday to attend appointments, having unpaid leave because nursery called as he had a temperature and the push came when I had to cancel three of his appointments. Appointments that once cancelled take three months to get booked in. I was having an emotional week, I walked into work and almost instantly nursery called and he’d been sick (he had reflux). I felt guilty for not giving work my 100% attention and I felt more guilty that my son’s needs were now suffering. He wasn’t doing well at nursery, he was struggling with his development and I went home that afternoon and wrote my resignation letter. The relief I felt was one of the best feelings. I never wanted to leave, but it wasn’t about me. Thomas needed his Mummy and nursery wasn’t going to fill the hole.

It was a decision that I have never regretted. It gave me time with Thomas to attend his appointments, plan for his future and spend the time that I just wasn’t getting while I worked. I worked part-time for a hotel, working a couple of evenings around my husband. It worked for us at the time.

Call me naive, but at this point, Thomas was still a toddler and developing averagely on time if not a little behind. He attended nursery two days a week, as I felt he still needed the social side of it and secretly I was hoping that once he was settled, I could get a part-time job and give up the evenings! Having taken the financial drop in pay, reducing the nursery costs, we lost most of our child tax credits. We muddled on for a few months until I cut nursery down to one day a week, it was pointless, but still, I wanted him to be like his sister and learn from others.

It just didn’t work, so I resided to the fact that it was best to remove him altogether. Fast forward two years, I thought the answer was return to education and get a ‘proper’ degree. He was young, at a nursery and it would work around it and for the most part it did but suddenly he wasn’t hitting his milestones, nursery kept calling me asking me to collect him for various reasons and then the file straw, I was two days late paying an invoice due to them undercharging, and they told me that they felt it best that he left.

CrayonsI guess back then, I still had this idealistic view that I wanted him to have a healthy life. Like most parents with special needs children, we want what is best for them and them to feel included. My dreams of a mainstream school were quickly fading when his epilepsy was diagnosed. He attended a special needs nursery, who were terrific!

Six years on, I was still working evenings having struggled to find a part-time job that contained the flexibility of hospitality. Degree under my belt, but for what it’s worth it hasn’t advantaged my career, but it made me feel better.

How it Works for Us…

Three years ago, during my degree my husband came home from work one evening, told me he couldn’t do it anymore. We’d had a tough night with Thomas, neither of us slept well, and it made a decision we’d been struggling to make more comfortable. He would give up full-time work, become Thomas’ full-time carer and I’d continue my degree. He now works part-time from home, around Thomas’ school drop-offs and pickups.

I tried last year to return to full-time work, financially one of us needs to work full time. It wasn’t, however, that easy. I wanted something locally so I could be at home within 15 minutes, but it was impossible. Most of the commutes were at least 30-40 minutes each way and as a family, it would never work. I realised very quickly that part-time hours would be our only option,

School HolidaysOur biggest struggle is the school holidays, we have one or two decent child care providers in our area who can caterer for disabled children and as you can imagine they fill up quickly and limit the sessions that a child can attend. Unfortunately, we don’t have parents who are able to offer their services for a variety of reasons we rely on school, holiday clubs and a playscheme one or two a month on a Saturday. We are still lucky in that respect, but I do panic with all the government’s budget cuts concerning disabled funding that within a few years they will be closed.

I like to call these types of posts ‘the get to know me’. No real reason but to share a little bit about our lives and our world. Do you struggle with work/life balance? Have you had to make changes to your working life to adapt to the balance? Please share your own stories or blog posts below.

Thanks for reading…

The Pros and Cons of Flexible Working

Pros & Cons of Flexible Working

I’m now officially in my mid to late ’30s. I was struck to realise that I have been left school for 20 years this year! I was born in the ’80s but grew up in the ’90s. My parents divorced in the part of the ’90s which saw my ‘homemaker’ Mum suddenly find herself a single parent, with bills, two children under 10 and no income.

Cleaning

Bless my Mum, she’d left school at a time when secondary moderns were at the forefront of education and she left school with no qualifications. If you wanted flexible hours around school childcare (before the likes of after-school clubs), you worked in retail, care or cleaning. My mum dabbled in all three pretty much most of my childhood.

I grew up knowing that when it came to having my own family, I would have an education, work experience and career. I wanted to be able to offer my own family yearly holidays, weekends by the sea and days out.

At the time of having my daughter in 2007, the rules concerning maternity leave, pay and rights were shifting. You could have a year off, nine months of ordinary leave and three months additional leave. It caused a lot of confusion at the time. Lots of my family members telling me that I had to return to work or ‘pay back my maternity pay’. But more parents were using child care, both parents were working and flexible working hours was something you could ‘apply for’.

It was new to so many employers that the lines were blurring between what was required and what wasn’t. It caused a lot of confusion, myself included. I spent my maternity leave being underpaid due to an administration error. My HR manager at the time had to search the internet for my rights as I worked in a very male-dominated workforce and there was no maternity policy!

I actually spent what should have been time enjoying my daughter, being pressured to return to work. I’d been off three months when the first email arrived. Office drama, new director, when was I thinking of returning? Geez, I don’t know in six months?! But it didn’t end there and they piled on so much pressure that I gave in and returned when she was five months old. I wasn’t ready, there is a lot more to the story concerning my return, I will not bore you now! But I struggled…majorly.

I remember at the time having coffee with friends who just weren’t able to return to work as they couldn’t afford the childcare and their rights to flexible working were declined. Employers just couldn’t see the benefit of including part-time or flexible workers on their payroll.

That was nearly 12 years ago and I was shocked recently to learn that one of my friends took her employer to a tribunal because she requested flexible working hours and they didn’t deal with the request effectively. She won her case but it surprised me that with so many families now having both parents working that employers can’t see the benefit of flexible working.

On googling ‘flexible working’, I received over 21k hits! Mostly negative. I thought I would share some of the reasons why I believe we could benefit from becoming a little more ‘flexible’. This covers remote staff, part-time, flexible full time and anything in between.

Pros

Family

1. Family – No more taking unpaid leave, using up annual leave or making up hours, with a little flexibility in our working schedules we could take that gym class, attend our daughters’ assembly and collect them from school. Not only this but with organisation, employers would be able to make arrangements.

2. Increased feeling of personal control – The introduction of facetime, skype, emails and social media has meant that as individuals we have communication on the go. This gives an added bonus to being in control of our own schedule. Meetings don’t have to be office based, a quick skype call and this gives us added power over our work environment.

3. The Dreaded Commute – Avoids traffic and the stresses of commuting during rush hours. You know how it is, you rush out the door at 7.45am makeup half done, coffee in hand while munching on a banana. You hit the main road and ‘boom’ a 30-minute commute turns into an hour. Working from home or starting at 10am instead of 9am means that you could be at your desk faster, logging on to those all-important tasks at 8.30am.

4. Environmental Considerations – Reduced consumption of employee commuting time and fuel costs. With ‘eco-friendly’ being an essential part of the workplace, employees are being rewarded at some companies for car sharing. Perhaps the bigger picture is with effective management of employees that could work from home or come into work less.

5. Happy Employees are Productive Employees – We all want to enjoy our jobs, whether it be time away from the kids, to keep our skills relevant or just to have adult conversations. An employee working 40 hours a week, with an hour, commute each way isn’t going to feel as empowered and productive as someone who works three days in the office, two days at home.

Cons

1. Team Environment – In team-oriented departments, teams still need to meet, which requires set guidelines. Some people take advantage of the flexibility and use that as an invitation to work from home which really means watch Netflix with their email screen open. There needs to be an extensive amount of trust, perhaps using a management board like ‘trello’ for example to keep staff motivated when not in the office.

2. Management Team – Some managers, who are used to seeing when their staff members come to work, watching what staff do all day at work, and knowing when people leave for home, have trouble adjusting to the new management style which requires trust. Hands-on managers (micromanaging) don’t adapt well to having employees away from the office, they often feel out of touch or struggle to keep track of their tasks.

3. Other Colleagues – Office-oriented people sometimes view their work-at-home colleagues as slackers because they can’t physically see their productivity. It has been common for employees to work at home to be seen as less productive, this isn’t true always true. But I think internal employees often feel that they are sat at home wearing PJ’s, munching on popcorn while watching Netflix. This isn’t always the case.

4. Availability – Compressed work weeks can make client handovers complicated—clients expect service 5 days a week during business hours and can be fussy when an employee isn’t in on Friday. It can be hard for clients to understand that at 2pm, you suddenly become unavailable or that on a Monday you won’t answer their email. Some companies cope well with this by including an email footer.

5. Job Types – Not all jobs can be flexible. Jobs that require customer-facing responsibilities only allow certain types of flextime. Whole days working from home are not an option.

Overall, the advantages generally outweigh the disadvantages and a good manager can handle the difficulties. Employees are keen to find employers who now offer more flexibility in their approach to work.

We obviously have a long way to go, perhaps you would like to share some of your own thoughts? Maybe you are an employee who works with flexibility, or perhaps you want to?

Thanks for Reading…