Karen Hazlehurst, Founder of SNIPS on Helping Hands Community Hub

Karen Hazlehurst, long term supporter of Helping Hands Community Hub, was the founder of Sheffield's Special Needs Inclusion Playcare Service (SNIPS) which provides specialised care and support for children with special needs across the city.

The story of how SNIPS came to be demonstrates the need for further support for children with special needs and for their parents/carers and families - a need that Helping Hands Community Hub endeavours to help tackle in any way we can.

"When my family moved to Sheffield I had anticipated that play care and leisure services would be widely available for all my children. It came as a surprise to find out that these were not available for my son who had special needs and was aged 7 at the time. I had secured a part time job coordinating an out of school club and was again surprised to be told by my managers that children with special needs that lived in their community could not be given the opportunity to take part in these activities.

I decided to find out why and help change this.

The Out of School Network was the umbrella organization for the development of childcare services and had organized a conference which David Blunkett, who was the home secretary was invited to attend.

I was asked to give a key note speech about my experience as a parent of a child with additional support needs in accessing play & leisure services in the Wirral where we had previously lived to that of trying to access them for my son in Sheffied.

Following the conference a small project group of parents and playcare providers including myself was set up with a view to taking forward the information gathered at the conference workshops over what was needed for these services to become inclusive and for parents to feel confident for their child to attend.

When I moved into a development position at the Out of School network it became possible to work with Local Authority commissioning managers to secure Carers Grant funding and to start to enable children who have additional support needs to participation in their local playcare club having not been given this opportunity before .

As more government funding opportunities arose, primarily the launch of the Children's' Fund, the work and development of services could be widely expanded and in line with the governments requirements the project was transferred into the Local Authority as a mainstream service offering mentoring, training and financial support for community providers, new sibling support services and new short break services at weekends and during school holidays.

I was fortunate to be able to work in collaboration with other parents and play care services who have a 'can do' ethos and want to facilitate change.

Helping Hands Training Specialists has achieved bringing the range of training courses needed by providers under one umbrella and expanding this regionally which is a great success. The potential for parents and carers to now access relevant courses if they want to, through Helping Hands Community Hub, will be a positive and enabling move forward that will go one step further to providing support to empower people with special needs and their families."

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