Fundraise on the First: First Step celebrates 27 years of caring for youngsters with disabilities

PUBLISHED: 07:00 22 October 2015

The First Step team and trustees

The First Step team and trustees


One autumn day, six families came together to share their experiences of raising children with special needs and disabilities and their hopes and fears for the future.

First Step's co-founder Gill Hare. She is holding one of the Recorder's front pages from 2004, which announced that the newspaper and the community had raised £1.1million for the charity's new buildingFirst Step's co-founder Gill Hare. She is holding one of the Recorder's front pages from 2004, which announced that the newspaper and the community had raised £1.1million for the charity's new building

Their meeting, at Upminster Methodist Church on October 23 1988, had become a reality after they told Gill Hare and Margaret Williams of their wish for a parents’ group supporting families such as theirs.

But little did the parents and co-founders know just how much their small group was to grow.

First Step has helped hundreds of families in the decades since, running vital services such as a sensory room, music therapy, siblings’ club, counselling and PACC (promoting attention, communication and co-operation) sessions, run for youngsters with social communication difficulties or autism spectrum disorders.

And on Friday, the charity’s families, fundraisers and supporters joined together to mark its 27th birthday, at its centre in Tangmere Crescent, Hornchurch – which was made possible thanks to £1.1million raised by Recorder readers in 2004.

First Step's chief executive Mark HallsFirst Step's chief executive Mark Halls

The occasion, tied in with the charity’s monthly Tasty Treats tea room, was attended by guests including First Step co-founder Gill Hare, patron Jeremy West, of West & Coe Funeral Directors, Elm Park councillors Cllr Stephanie Nunn and Cllr Barry Mugglestone and the Recorder’s editor and news editor, Chris Carter and Emma Lake.

With youngsters supported by the charity playing in the corner, chief executive Mark Halls and Gill Hare both gave speeches, before Havering Poetry Group’s Terry Bickell read a specially-written poem.

During her speech, an emotional Gill thanked all those who have invested their hearts, time and money into First Step, jokingly asking the guests whether they thought she could make the 50th anniversary celebrations.

To this, Mark remarked that she had “no excuse” not to be there.

First Step volunteers Rose McLellan, Sheila Brunt and Marie BushFirst Step volunteers Rose McLellan, Sheila Brunt and Marie Bush

Gill also spoke of the lack of technology in the early days, recalling co-founder Margaret answering the phone when the charity was based at the former Dunningford School, Elm Park.

To pick the call up, Margaret had to in effect sit in the cupboard where the phone was connected, Gill told the amused guests.

Speaking afterwards, the charity’s fundraising manager Michelle Mitchell said: “We were delighted to welcome patrons, trustees, friends, supporters and staff, coming together to share so many memories.

“It was a wonderful event and we are grateful to everyone who has given their time and energy to help us achieve this milestone.”

First Step patron Jeremy West (left) and others enjoying First's Step's birthday celebrationFirst Step patron Jeremy West (left) and others enjoying First's Step's birthday celebration

The birthday celebrations continue today (Friday), with community groups hosting fundraising dress-up days.

First Step staff are pulling out their ‘80s gear, while Recorder reporters are taking a trip back to the ‘90s.

Others taking part include the Hornchurch Harmonies Women’s Institute branch, with members all wearing the colour red.

If you are getting involved, make sure to tweet us your pictures today using the hashtag #FirstStepBirthday.

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