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You can do it with a buddy

Jane Hook found there were no outlets for her autistic daughter so she set up a club herself. Karen Shead reports

The Buddies Club in the west end of Glasgow is not like any other summer holiday playscheme. Not only does it cater for up to 50 children a day and offer them one-to-one or even two-to-one care, it has the stamp of Bamp;Q's "You can do it".

Based at the Netherton community centre in Anniesland, the after-school club offers constructive play and leisure to children and teenagers with special needs such as autism, cerebral palsy and Downs syndrome, as well as a range of physical disabilities.

"You name it, we've got it," Jane Hook says. She set up the club with her late husband Bill 10 years ago on a start-up grant of pound;500 to meet the needs of 170 families: last year, it received pound;250,000.

It was a very personal start for Mrs Hook, vice-chair of the Scottish Society for Autism, who was awarded an MBE last year for her services to the cause. "Our daughter Rachel has autism and we discovered there were no social opportunities, nothing for her to do and no way for her to make friends."

Referrals come from a variety of sources that include schools, social workers and health visitors. "There are also children who don't have a disability as such, but they might have a mental health problem or there may be abuse going on in the family," Mrs Hook says. "Children come here for a whole range of reasons."

As well as the six weeks of the summer holidays, the club opens in term-time for parent-toddler groups and family support in the mornings, and for after-school care. On Monday and Wednesday evenings, there are youth clubs. It is also waiting to hear if it can offer nursery provision.

"Because a considerable number of our young people require one-to-one or even two-to-one care often, we have about 35-40 children, and we can have 20-30 staff in a day," Mrs Hook says.

The cost of attending the Buddies playscheme varies from pound;20 to pound;70 a day, depending on the individual needs of a child.

But cost does not seem to be a determining factor in why parents choose to enrol their children; it is the level of care and facilities that count.

The club is based in the west of Glasgow, but its waiting list has names from all over the city.

"The thing that makes this work is the fact that we have proper assessments of the children," Mrs Hook says. "And we believe in training our staff. We get them as fully trained as possible in all areas. It's not good for children to rely on one member of staff.

"It's a really big service we run and it's very different because we are not geared to working parents. Very few of our parents work full-time; some manage to do part-time work."

During the summer holidays, trips are arranged and on most mornings the forecourt of the community centre is a hive of activity. Heads are counted as children board the buses to be whisked off to the swimming pool, cinema, ice-skating rink or bowling alley.

On days when they are not out and about, they are based at the centre - in the club's two rooms - and take part in anything from arts and crafts to listening to music, making popcorn and watching films. Now, thanks to a pound;5,000 award from Bamp;Q's "You Can Do It" scheme, there are plans to revamp the teenage room.

The teenagers themselves will be involved in deciding what their room will look like by choosing colour schemes, lighting, flooring and furniture.

The annual Bamp;Q awards help community projects across the UK to transform their facilities and premises. This year 20 projects are each receiving pound;5,000 worth of Bamp;Q materials.

Mrs Hook says the ethos of the club is simple: "We want to make sure our children and young people get the opportunities that all children and young people have."

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