First Step celebrates 30 years of supporting Havering families and children with disabilities

PUBLISHED: 07:00 20 February 2018 | UPDATED: 07:57 20 February 2018

Student nurse volunteering at one of First Step's play sessions.

Student nurse volunteering at one of First Step's play sessions.


A Hornchurch charity is celebrating 30 years of providing vital support to families and caring for youngsters with disabilities.

First Step in Tangmere Crescent has helped hundreds of Havering families since its foundation in 1988.

Michelle Mitchell, fundraising manager at First Step, told the Recorder: “What makes us unique is that children and families can attend from birth.

“We have a holistic approach to the family, we provide 360 degree support.”

First Step is marking its pearl anniversary with a programme of various events throughout the year.

Tickets for its Quiz Night on Saturday, February 24 have already sold out, however the charity is also holding a Step 2 It Havering 5k run on Wednesday, June 13 and the First Step Golf Day, ‘The Pearl Classic’ on Friday, September 8.

Finally, there will be a big 30th Anniversary ball at Orset Hall on Saturday October 6.

“Fundamentally, the reasons why First Step started are the same reasons that we exist today, and that is to support families and children,” said Michelle.

L-R: Debbie Bennett, Michelle Mitchell fundraising manager, Mark Halls CEO, Allie Marchington, Caroline Hood and Janet Hutchinson.L-R: Debbie Bennett, Michelle Mitchell fundraising manager, Mark Halls CEO, Allie Marchington, Caroline Hood and Janet Hutchinson.

“There is as much of a need to support the children and families today as there was in 1988.”

The charity has a special sensory room, a dedicated parents’ room, space for developmental play, and they provide PACC (promoting attention, communication and co-operation) sessions, run for youngsters with social communication difficulties or autism spectrum disorders.

Staff create health care plans and observational reports at the end of every session, each tailored for the child’s individual needs.

Mum, Sera Turkdogan first brought her son, Aiden to First Step in July, 2016.

Aiden was born with severe laryngomalacia, a defect of the airway.

Sera said: “First Step has saved me. I will never be judged here and it has made such a difference to us. Because of First Step, I have become the best mum I possibly can be to my children.

“It was here I finally felt like I belonged somewhere and I was no longer being judged on my parenting or on the decisions I was making for my son.”

Mum Lisa and her daughter, Charlotte, who has Downs Syndrome have also enjoyed the support they receive from First Step.

“The staff get to know each and every child so well, their likes, dislikes, their needs and how to work with them all individually,” said Lisa.

“I have made wonderful friends here, friends for life.”

Friends of First Step (FoFS) re-launched in 2017 with the aim of providing a network for their supporters.

Speaking about FoFS, Mark Halls, First Step chief executive, said: “It’s starting to show real fruit by calling to people who have involvement with us over the last 30 years.

“Without their help it will become harder and harder to give support to families in the future.”

Sharon Everest, who works with the children at First Step, added: “I have been here for 20 years and I still bump into people that were here 15 years ago, because they still like to meet up.

“We work will all the people in the community, physios, speech therapists, it’s very much multi-agency.”

The Recorder readers helped First Step raise £1.1m in 2004 for the charity to move into its facilities in Hornchurch.

“The [Recorder] team really threw themselves into it and were really committed. They understood our values, and that’s what has made the difference,” said Michelle.

First Step need about £400,000 a year to maintain the services it currently provides.

This year the charity still needs £350,000 of funding.

The staff at First Step have been working hard to negate the loss of funding from Havering Council in April last year.

Mark said: “Whilst it’s true a lot of charities have suffered the same fate, we recognise that early intervention is key, and we are some of the earliest interventions.”

If you would like to support First Step, Michelle encourages people to get involved by contacting the charity at 01708 556355.

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