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‘It was almost like freedom’: Families welcome return of play services for additional needs children

For many families, lockdown was a time fraught with challenges.

From home schooling the children to working from home, each day could bring a new obstacle to overcome.

But for those caring for children who have additional needs, the challenges were perhaps even greater.

And with most services shut during lockdown, places offering a break for families and playtime for children were sorely missed.

One such place is The Yard, in Dundee, which offers “creative and adventurous play” for children with additional needs and their siblings.

Now that it’s reopen after lockdown, The Courier went along to find out what it meant to families for them to be back.

Lockdown was “daunting”

Pauline Rice, whose daughter Bella – a triplet – has autism, is one parent who has taken  advantage of The Yard reopening.

Like many during lockdown, Pauline and her partner were faced with the challenges of working from home whilst balancing the responsibilities of running a family.

This was made all the more difficult without the respite offered by The Yard, somewhere the family have been coming for two-and-a-half years.

Pauline Rice with daughter Olivia.

Pauline said: “I had to work from home and we still had to balance our daughter and other two children’s needs with everything that comes with running a family.

“Bella was also on the shielding list so it was quite difficult was to keep us all enclosed indoors.

“It was a big loss not having The Yard. It took us a long time to find a safe place and when most of the services shut down during Covid, it was quite daunting as a family.”

“The first day we came back, all of us were so happy.”

Pauline Rice

It was following the autism diagnosis of Bella, now five, that the family first became aware of The Yard.

Pauline added: “For us, it’s a safe place. Staff always have a smile on their face and there’s always something for the kids to do.

“And to have other parents to speak to that could relate to your story in some ways, that was a comfort to me as a mum.

“I was very glad we found and I wished we would’ve found it earlier than we had.”

Having fun at The Yard.

The reopening of the Dundee centre after lockdown was a “brilliant” moment for Pauline and her family and meant they could have some much needed fun.

“The first day we came back, all of us were so happy. The kids were running up and down, it was almost like freedom”, Pauline said.

“They were allowed to express themselves, explore, get messy and not have to worry. It was brilliant.”

“He kept asking to go to The Yard”

Another mum who has found support at The Yard is 28-year-old Vikki Tosh.

The mum-of-two, who has been coming to the Dundee centre with her son Thomas for around three years, also found the lockdown periods a challenge.

She said: “It’s a really important place. Thomas gets to be himself here, he can let off all that energy.

Thea Curran, Thomas’ sister,  having fun.

“It was quite hard having him stuck in the house and not getting his release, this was his place where he could get it all out.

“He just wasn’t getting that and he was really missing it. He kept asking to go the garden, meaning The Yard, and he was gutted it was shut.”

Run by those with personal experience

The family sessions at The Yard are overseen by Marta Jastrzab, play team leader at centre.

Marta became involved at The Yard through her experience as a mum of two autistic sons; joining firstly as a family member looking for support before moving into her current role.

She said: “I never feel judged when we are here. Sometimes when you’re at the park for example, you can feel judged by other parents when your child starts to get upset.

“But over here, everyone is on the same wavelength and they understand – you feel safe.”

Before the pandemic struck, there could be up 30 children attending sessions at The Yard.

However due to Covid changes have had to be made, meaning families have to pre-book before coming so that numbers can be managed.

Family sessions are being held on Sundays and Wednesday afternoons, and separate, allocated tables have been created to keep families in their ‘bubble’.

Marta said: “At the moment, due to Covid, we have to change the service a bit so we are running two pre-booked sessions (a week).

“It’s much quieter now in the sessions because we can only have up to five families at one time.

“The children are happy though, they have more space and opportunities to play as well.”

To find out more about The Yard and the services they offer, visit their website.

‘There’s been lots of smiley faces’: Soft play centres reopen after more than 400 days shut

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