Through the work of Heel and Toe, young people living with Cerebral Palsy and other complex needs are being supported to make life-changing progress and achieve milestones their parents never thought possible.
NR Times learns more about the therapies delivered by the charity, how it is helping to meet urgent need in its native North East, and why fundraising is all-important to its future sustainability
Fifteen years ago, a group of parents got together to create desperately-needed provision for their children, following the closure of a local service in the North East which supported young people with Cerebral Palsy and other complex disabilities.
And from their desire to make change for their own children, a charity was born which is now changing the lives of young people across the country.
Heel and Toe works with hundreds of children every year, supporting them with a range of therapies and access to specialist facilities, as well as being by the sides of families as they work in close collaboration to achieve outcomes well beyond expectations.
With two sites in County Durham – a main therapy centre in Pelton and a dedicated hydrotherapy site in nearby Perkinsville, opened in 2018 and currently being extended further – it delivers weekly sessions to local families, as well as intensive blocks during school holidays.
The charity also delivers school outreach projects and online support for parents, supplementing the life-changing work of its centres further.
“We had one boy who came to us at about seven months old, we weren’t sure he would ever be able to walk,” says Jane Long, business development executive at Heel and Toe, who supported the creation of the charity and has been there ever since.
“But he took his first steps with us in our centre, and then moved on to using the treadmill, and has gone on to thrive. His dream was to play football – and he now plays for his local team.
“That has been absolutely fantastic to be part of, I can’t tell you the joy it gives us as a team to see things like that happen.
“Over the years, there have been so many stories like that, of children who come to us and our amazing therapists genuinely help to change their lives. It’s a privilege to be part of.”
Meeting the need
Back in 2008, amidst a lack of provision in the North East for children with Cerebral Palsy and other disabilities – and significant waiting lists for parents to secure diagnoses and access to NHS therapy – a group of families took the initiative to do something themselves, or else face a potentially lengthy wait for the support their children badly needed.
“My friend has a child with Cerebral Palsy, but the place they were accessing Conductive Education therapy was closed down because there was no funding. So my friend and other parents got together and decided they wanted to provide a service to do the same thing,” recalls Jane.
“It all started in response to a service that was being pulled away, and they sought help from people from different backgrounds to help make a success of it. My background is in business development, so I came in to support with the development of Heel and Toe as a charity, and it has grown so much from there.”
And from the very earliest days, the need for this new service quickly became apparent, with huge demand from families.
“When we started, it was really difficult for parents to get a formal diagnosis for their child, they were essentially working with their clinical teams to try and establish the milestones their children were supposed to be hitting at certain times, and realising from there that their development might be quite delayed in certain areas,” says Jane.
“They were absolutely desperate for access to therapy that would help their child, but waiting lists were absolutely exhausted and when they did get access to therapy, the staffing situation was a massive problem as well. There just wasn’t the quality or quantity of therapy they badly needed.
“So when we opened a centre where families could come and access a range of therapies, the demand was huge. We expanded our services based on what was needed – from Conductive Education to physiotherapy to occupational therapy and so on, we now have a whole range of support that has grown as the demand increased.”
And with NHS waiting lists continuing to grow, and the huge additional pressure put on the healthcare system during and in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for Heel and Toe’s services has never been greater.
“While access to therapies is wider than when we first started, because demand is so high, capacity is a problem for many services. We just keep growing in response to that,” says Jane.
“Yes, the demand is absolutely massive, but we’ve got an incredible team of therapists and fundraisers, and we all work to maximum capacity. We just want to see children thrive and be able to develop in a way that’s going to make things accessible in life that they didn’t think was going to be possible.
“We always try and provide as much as we can. We have had families come to us from miles away. If we can support them, we will. And if we find any other centres or charities that have facilities and availability, we can forward on that information to our parents. We want to do the very best we can for every child.”
Through the work of the Heel and Toe team, children are enabled to exceed expectations, having fun while taking part in life-changing therapy.
“Many children who come to us have never taken any steps so their core stability is quite weak, the muscle tone is quite weak,” says Jane.
“But after three or four weeks of sessions with us, the difference is massive. They realise they really enjoy their therapy, so want to do as much as they can.
“We’re always getting calls through to the fundraising office saying ‘You have to come and see this’. We share the joy as a whole team in seeing children progress like there are – and that’s what it’s all about.”
‘Fundraising is our lifeline’
While Heel and Toe deliver a wide range of therapies and support, everything is funded by grants, fundraising initiatives and donations – there are no guaranteed sources of income to finance its work.
“We are the only charity in the North East to provide the amount of services we do without any funding, and we are only too aware of the need for us to continue to deliver and grow our services,” says Jane.
“The COVID pandemic, and now the cost of living crisis, is making this a very difficult and slow process, as the main part of our income is through donations from public and businesses and through fundraising events.
“And the reality is that if we don’t have the funding, we’re not going to be able to provide the services. We’re all really motivated by the need to stop this from happening as we have families who need us so much.”
Fundraising has been key to the growth of Heel and Toe, with every bit of its work and equipment funded by donations. Its ongoing expansion of the Perkinsville centre will see the creation of new treatment rooms, which will need to be filled with equipment, and is a current focus of fundraising.
Among its many successes over the years has been its two-year Footprints Appeal for the creation of its hydrotherapy centre generating the £280,000 needed to bring a vital resource to the area.
More recently, its support of children and families remotely with online therapy sessions during the COVID-19 pandemic was funded through grants, and has been hailed as a “lifeline” for many parents amidst the extended ‘stay at home’ guidance to protect their vulnerable children.
“Every single service we provide needs to be funded, if we want to do something, we have to go and raise the money to do that,” says Jane.
“If there is something specific we want to offer, such as the hydrotherapy pool or the online therapy, then we’ll put out a capital appeal, but we need to fundraise just to keep our centres open and our therapies running.
“For example, we raised the money to create the hydrotherapy pool, which was fantastic, but then you have to pay for its upkeep, the electricity, the maintenance. The fundraiser was for the actual building, but then you need to find the funding to maintain it. Nothing is certain, but we keep going.
“With our expansion we are creating more therapy rooms, and the equipment and sensory toys are very expensive, so that’s something else we are currently looking to fund.
“We do get some great support from the children’s families, and that spills out into their community and the parents’ workplaces, and all of the little things that individual families or workplaces might do really add up and it has a huge holistic effect on the whole charity.
“We have some great relationships with some local businesses, but I’d love to work more closely with more of them. We are centrally located in the North East, while also supporting children from outside of the region, and because we are reliant on fundraising, their support means so much to us.”
Heel and Toe has a number of fundraising events planned in the coming months. For more information on how to support its events, visit www.heelandtoe.org.uk/events
- For information on corporate sponsorship opportunities for the charity or any of its events, contact Caroline Nevin on 0191 3868606 or email: email@example.com
Law firm Slater and Gordon are longstanding supporters of the work of Heel and Toe.
Ben Gent, principal lawyer at Slater and Gordon, says:
“The work done by Heel and Toe and their determination to succeed against the odds, and without statutory funding, is nothing short of astonishing. We admire the charity’s achievements, share their values, and are delighted to commit to supporting them.
“This year, Slater and Gordon has again sponsored, or will be sponsoring, the charity’s All Ability Bike Ride, Lake District 5 Peaks, Great North Run and their annual Gala Ball. All of these events are inspiring and enjoyable in equal measure, and necessary to raise the funds needed to continue their amazing services.
“Slater and Gordon has a long history of supporting children, and families of children, with Cerebral Palsy and other physical and neurological disabilities.
“We’re dedicated to ensuring those who Heel and Toe support received the legal support they need, whether that is trying to find answers about medical care, offering help with benefits or working towards securing compensation.
“We hope our continued support for this outstanding charity will help them to reach even more children and families.”
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