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Fundraise on the First: Founder shares charity’s incredible 26-year story

PUBLISHED: 09:57 20 January 2015 | UPDATED: 11:09 20 January 2015

Gill Hare, who co-founded First Step in 1988

Gill Hare, who co-founded First Step in 1988

Archant

In October 1988, six families came together for the first time to share their experiences of raising children with special needs and disabilities.

First Step in numbers

100+

Families access its services every year

2

Music therapy days each week

14

Hours of counselling each week

4

PACC sessions each week for six children

3

Family sessions each week

They could hardly have known that, 26 years later, this small support group would have blossomed into a charity which calls a million-pound centre home.

Gill Hare, with Margaret Williams, founded First Step, which began at this meeting at Upminster Methodist Church, in Hall Lane.

And now she has spoken to the Recorder to share her experiences as part of our new campaign Fundraise on the First.

“Because of various people I knew, including a close friend, I was in a position of finding out firsthand how difficult it can be for families when a baby or young child is diagnosed with having different needs to perhaps what they were expecting.

“I can never fully understand, but I learned a little more of how difficult it can be.

“For many people, there are feelings of fear, anger and guilt, a sense of loss and they wonder what the future will hold.

“In those years there were general parents’ meeting groups.

“Parents were saying to me they wanted to do that, but that the others wouldn’t understand.”

First Step began as a meeting one morning a week for six families, with volunteers who would come along and help with the children.

But as more and more people heard about it, it grew and the parents asked if their children could be looked after while they undertook errands such as shopping.

The charity later moved to a classroom at Nelmes Primary School, in Wingletye Lane, Hornchurch, and settled at the former Dunningford School in 1992, as there was more space available.

But in 2004, the charity desperately needed a specialised building and a Recorder campaign raised £1.1million for RJ Mitchell Primary School’s infant school block, in Tangmere Crescent, to be transformed into a centre for First Step.

Gill, from Upminster, said: “We had wonderful support; I think people were delighted to help with something so clearly visible.

“I don’t believe we would have achieved it without their help.”

The founder retired in 2008, but has remained passionate about the charity’s vital role.

“We know so many families who met at First Step and went on to form lifelong friendships, which is amazing.

“Often many things in their lives will be difficult for them, but it is lovely to see how the children have developed and how their parents are so proud of them.”

She added: “We desperately need the services; it really is in response to need.

“I would beg for the community to do whatever it can, however small or great.”

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