While YMCA East Surrey’s LifeWorks project directly supports young people aged 16 and above with disabilities, the benefits are felt by the whole family.

Pam and Tony’s daughter, Chailey, has learning disabilities and associated speech and language difficulties. Often, they have felt frustrated at the lack of opportunities available for their daughter.

“It’s been a battle to find people who understand the level of support that Chailey needs,” says mum, Pam, “but YMCA East Surrey has been a constant in all our lives for the last seven years, providing information, encouragement, and experiences for Chailey through many different projects.”

YMCA East Surrey’s Inclusive Youth Projects Manager, John Brunswick, has seen huge changes in 26-year-old Chailey during that time.

“When I first met her, Chailey was shy and quiet,” he says. “Now, her confidence has gone through the roof, her independence is growing, and her speech and language have improved immensely.”

Chailey attends four LifeWorks sessions a week, during which a range of activities, including cookery, gardening, and sports, are used to teach life skills to young adults with disabilities. She particularly enjoys helping in the YMCA café twice a week and is now able to lead others in the step-by-step processes of food hygiene and preparation.

“Chailey gets everyone involved, knows what she’s doing and she’s able to tell others how it should be done too,” says John. “Often she’ll tell the staff if she thinks we’re not doing things right – we don’t get away with anything!”

Chailey also works at a local charity shop. Originally supported by one of our youth services staff, she quickly became so independent that she no longer required that level of support. Sadly, this has now been put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Lockdown gave us a chance to recognise the changes in Chailey more clearly,” says John. “During our first Zoom meeting, her mum logged on for her and Chailey stayed in the background. In sessions two and three, she began to edge into view and by the fourth session, Chailey was logging on herself and actively taking part.”

Although Chailey loves her home and her bedroom, watching DVDs and painting, like many others she found lockdown a challenge.

“It was really boring when I couldn’t go out because of the virus,” she says.

“We are so glad that LifeWorks is back up and running,” says Tony. “It keeps Chailey busy and gives her the opportunity to access other YMCA services too – like the Health and Wellbeing Y-Mania discos. Chailey is a bewitching dancer!”

“LifeWorks gives her a social life, a purpose and a place of safety. Without it, I can imagine she’d become quite introverted and her conversation would suffer.”

“We put all our trust in the YMCA staff,” says Pam, “We have our worries, but John helps us work out what the future holds for us and for Chailey. And that is priceless.”

Read more about LifeWorks Inclusive Activities