Grace House, a charity offering a range of specialist services to support children and young people who have complex disabilities and life limiting conditions and their families, is backing wellbeing volunteering packages delivered by fellow businesses as an effective way to help third sector organisations.

North East social enterprise entrepreneur and wellbeing consultant Bethany Ainsley advises businesses about the wellbeing of their staff with volunteering playing a key role.

And Grace House in Sunderland is one of the charities which is receiving this kind of unique and holistic support thanks to RTC North, which is sending in its own staff as volunteers to benefit the charity itself and the families it cares for.

Hartlepool born Bethany is chief executive of social enterprise Nouveau Wellbeing and Nouveau Training Academy, now heads up her own eponymous wellbeing services company based at Belasis Business Park in Teesside.

She said: “For the ten years I’ve operated my social enterprise I’ve learned a lot about running a viable business of this kind, for which sourcing funding is key and the importance of both mental and physical wellbeing for individuals both at home and in the work place, plays a pivotal role.

“If companies can take care of their staff by encouraging charitable volunteering and other small of acts of kindness, it is a self-fulfilling and positive cycle. Not only are individual staff members benefiting from a broader sense of purpose, improved satisfaction and healthy mental wellbeing, but the companies involved will also benefit from staff who understand each other better, work better as a team and become more effective in the day job as a result.”

RTC North, a large technology transfer business which helps other companies to generate growth, is delivering a bespoke volunteering programme to Grace House with Bethany’s expert support.

It includes providing Grace House with its own staff as volunteers for specific projects such as maintenance and gardening, particularly focused on the substantial garden within which the charity building is located and forms part of the services it offers – as well as offering professional skills such as marketing and fundraising, that will assist with Grace House’s ongoing sustainability.

Andrew Buckley, chief executive of RTC North which is based in Sunderland and operates across the whole region and beyond, said: “As an organisation we pride ourselves on helping businesses reach their full potential. We do this by being thorough and taking the time to understand every individual business.

“So why not take the same approach to our third sector work, which with Bethany’s help is now happening. Grace House is a wonderful charity, if we can make it more sustainable and implement a volunteer programme that takes into account its individual requirements, then surely we can take great pride in that, and develop links that really make a difference.”

RTC’s volunteer programme is also being rolled as Bethany has conducted research for charities further afield – namely the Garforth Neighbourhood Elders Team (NET Garforth) near RTC’s Leeds office and The Transform Lives Company, for its Liverpool offices.

“We are committed to delivering a structured volunteer programme for these great charities too. This is only the start of something very exciting,” he said.

Victoria Brown chief executive of Grace House highlighted the importance of having this kind of support as well as cash donations.

“As a charity it’s vital that we continue to raise funds so that our families can continue to receive our support. So, when Bethany approached me about receiving corporate support in the form of a carefully devised wellbeing package, I jumped at the chance.

“We have an amazing fundraising team but there is only so much you can do yourself, and the volunteer package devised with Bethany’s help goes beyond raising money and provides us with support in specific areas.

“We have more of an opportunity to highlight what we do and the impact we have on the children and their families.”

She added: “As a result of advances in medicine there are many more children and young people diagnosed with complex and often life limiting conditions living significantly longer, and we are now helping the child or young person affected, and their families to live with the condition.

“This can range from providing our flag ship Short Breaks service, or 24/7 care for the child, but also providing support in less obvious ways for the family in terms of regular counselling or more complimentary holistic relaxation services with our One Place Your Space Big Lottery funded services.

“RTC, with Bethany’s expertise, have taken the time and trouble to understand our Short Breaks (respite) services and how they benefit our children and their families, and looked at how best they can support us, which means a tremendous amount to us.”

Grace House families

The Watson family

Gemma Watson, 34, of Ryhope, Sunderland, has three beautiful children – four-year-old Lucy, 14 year-old Lewis and seven-year-old Jack, who has a life limiting genetic disorder called Sanfilippo Syndrome.

Gemma has used the One Place Your Space and Short Breaks services offered by Grace House and has had relaxing massages and free counselling which she finds fantastic.

“As the parent of a special needs child it is very hard to break the routine and entrust others with your child. I was very guilty and nervous about letting other people look after Jack, especially given the fact that the nature of his genetic disorder means we could lose him at any time.

“But he loves his time at Grace House, I spend every waking moment caring for him so maybe it comes as a little relief that he has someone else looking after him for a while.

“I literally didn’t know I wanted respite services until I tried them and getting a proper break probably makes me a better carer, as I’m also able to have a rest and refocus on my other two children, restoring a bit of balance.”

Jack is thought to be only one of 100 children in the country to live with this condition.

“I knew there was something wrong from very early on, but he wasn’t diagnosed until 16 months old.

“Obviously it was devastating to be told that he had a condition for which there is no cure or treatment. It is highly likely that Jack will not make it to a teenager and its heart breaking to see him regress as the condition runs its course.

“Jack hasn’t developed as others might, he doesn’t talk but he communicates in other ways. I look after him to the best of my ability and my husband and other children have been a great support, but sometimes you just need to off load to someone unconnected, which is why I find the counselling I’ve been receiving from Grace House fantastic.

“We all deal with things in different ways, my husband processes what’s happening and quietly comes to terms with it, whereas I prefer to talk about it, we’re just different.

“The counselling I’ve received and the respite I had thanks to the short breaks service has really helped me. I want to be the best mother I can be to Jack and my other two children and the best wife I can be to my husband. I’ve come to realise that doesn’t mean spending every moment in Jack’s company, but giving myself and Jack an opportunity to spend I a little time apart.

“When I go in for counselling it is as Gemma Watson, not just Jack’s mum, and this gives me an opportunity to focus on keeping myself healthy and strong for the rest of my family but also for me.”

The Young Family

Philip a retired police officer, his wife Allison and their four children Imogen, 13, Abigail, 16, Craig, 23, and Melissa, 26.

When Abigail was born 11 weeks premature she had a traumatic delivery which left her in an incubator for 79 days and permanently disabled. She has cerebral palsy which has inhibited her cognitive development.

Although she is 16, she has a mental age of about six or seven, and is partially blind. In addition to this she lives with scoliosis, a degenerative condition resulting in curvature of the spine, and in Abigail’s case means she needs a wheel chair.

Philip, who retired from Northumbria Police 11 months ago after 30 years’ service, said: “It is more difficult for a family when one of you is living with severe disability. It’s tough with the extra emotional, financial and physical demands of the support we need for Abigail.

“Allison gave up her career and has been a fulltime carer for Abigail and it’s probably been more difficult for our other children than we realised. I can remember trying to explain to our son Craig, who was seven at the time, that we might lose Abigail – his answer was ‘can’t you find her again?’ It was heart breaking.

“We didn’t have access to the kind of respite services that Grace House provides. But now that we are fortunate enough to have been using the services for over three years, we know now just how important they are.

“It means that Abigail, who requires 24/7 care gets looked after exactly as we would want and we get an opportunity to recharge and receive other services such as massage and alternative therapies; something that Allison and I can have for ourselves.”

Robson Family

Toni Robson, 35, is married to Ronnie, 38, and has three daughters Stephanie, 18, and Leah, 15, who both live with merosin negative congenital muscular dystrophy which means both girls are reliant on wheelchairs and cannot walk, and Jamie who is 11 and doesn’t have the condition.

The Robson family, who live 5 minutes away from Grace House in Southwick, have been supporters of Grace House since before it was built and Stephanie was able to first start using the services when she was four years old, she is now 18 so it is Leah who is still able to use the Short Breaks service.

Mother Toni also uses the One Space Your Place service which has helped her manage her diagnosed bi-polar disorder.

Toni said: “I have suffered from bi-polar and used anti-depressants for years and the therapies I’ve been able to access at Grace House mean I’ve been able to significantly reduce my use of them.  I would not have been able to access these holistic services without the help of Grace House and they have really made a difference.

“The support we have got over the years from Grace House means we never feel like we are alone and the short breaks Leah uses once a fortnight are still vital.”

Stephanie attends City of Sunderland Bede College Campus and Leah, and sister Jamie, attend Oxclose Community Academy in Washington.

Toni said: “Stephanie is great at IT and Leah is studying for her GCSEs and we are very proud of all three girls.”