To Leon and his parents, the suspension of services during the coronavirus pandemic made an immense difference in their lives.

“Yip4Youth is the only respite help we get,” explains Leon’s dad, Tony. “In fact, it’s the only support that we have found available in this area. There is definitely more demand than availability for families like us.”

“Leon is an only child and we are limited with where we can take him. The three of us tend to operate in a kind of microbubble most of the time and Yip4Youth is a lifeline to the outside world. We missed it hugely.”

Leon is 13 years old and has cerebral palsy, hydrocephalus, focal epilepsy and associated learning difficulties. He accesses Yip4Youth, YMCA East Surrey’s fun and friendly youth club, weekend and school holiday scheme for 12 to 18-year-olds with disabilities and complex needs.

Judith Brooks, Head of Children and Young People for YMCA East Surrey, says:

“The Short Breaks team did their best to bring Yippee & Yip4Youth to families at home during lockdown by creating and delivering over 250 activity packs that were full of fun, practical ideas for things to do at home.”

“Our staff created a series of 59 videos which were posted on YMCA East Surrey Short Breaks Facebook page. These ranged from storytime to science experiments – plus a virtual tour of the very popular minibuses! – and, to date, have been viewed over 13,500 times.”

Sociable and cheeky, Leon has enjoyed the short breaks sessions since he first attended Yippee as an 8-year-old.

“We were surprised at how easily he settled in,” says mum, Claire. “I’ve always felt very protective of Leon and it’s hard to leave him with anyone else, but we desperately needed some time to ourselves.”

Leon’s attention span is short at home, although he enjoys listening to songs, keeping busy in the kitchen and playing on his laptop. He needs to be constantly monitored and occupied. Leon relishes adult company and loves speaking with family on the phone but can lash out in frustration if he loses patience with an activity or tries to call someone who isn’t available.

“I can’t get anything done when Leon is at home,” explains Claire. “When he’s at Yip4Youth, Tony and I have a chance to spend time together, go out for breakfast, or tackle jobs around the house. At the same time, Leon enjoys the familiarity of seeing the members of staff he likes best and the trips and outings have proved a great way to introduce him to new experiences.”

The family is delighted that Yip4Youth sessions have now been resumed.

“It’s so vital that Leon has this chance to interact with other children of the same age,” says Tony. “As he gets older, Leon is going to learn positive lessons from the people he meets through YMCA East Surrey. We can’t put a value on that.”

Read more about Yip4Youth Short Breaks for young people with disabilities