Cheryl Drury’s work gaining play opportunities for disabled children has seen her become an Excellence Network champion. Anabel Unity Sale reports
As a rule, Cheryl Drury (pictured) does not go to award ceremonies. Fortunately, a colleague convinced her to attend Community Care’s Excellence Network, which was just as well: she was named one of Community Care’s 10 social care champions thanks to her work with the Hamara Family Project in Waltham Forest, east London.
Hamara – which is part of Barnardo’s – works with more than 370 local children with disabilities and their families. As project worker Drury is responsible for Hamara’s HipHop initiative. The scheme, whose name stands for Hamara Inclusive Play Holiday Opportunities Project, works to help children with disabilities gain access to mainstream play activities.
Drury started work in the public sector as an animal rights officer for Ealing. When she and her husband had their first child in 1989 their lives were to change forever. Karl was born severely disabled and required 24-hour care for his cerebral palsy.
When Karl was one year old, Drury came across a project called Be My Carer, which offered respite and introduced her to other families with disabled children. With the contacts she made there she started a parent and toddler group for children with disabilities and this initially brought her into touch with Hamara, whom she approached for advice.
After her second son Jack was born in 1992, Drury combined caring for Karl with working at Jack’s playgroup. “One of the awful things about the situation of parents of disabled children is that you think you will never work again because of all you have to juggle,” she says.
She joined Hamara as a play scheme leader in 1996. Sadly, Karl died in 1997 aged eight. Since then, Drury has worked for the charity part-time and, in 2001, took on the HipHop role.
The HipHop initiative operates an after-school club every Tuesday for primary school children in The Limes, an inclusive charity-run children’s centre. It also runs a swimming group on Thursdays for primary school-aged children during term-time at a local private school, The Forest. Over the summer, Drury supports mainstream play schemes to take on disabled children by providing Hamara support workers to attend with them. Part of Drury’s role is to speak to play schemes and explain what it means to have a disabled child on their premises. She works with 20 play schemes a year, and is looking to work with more.
“Parents just want their children to enjoy life,” Drury says. “Most children wouldn’t get to do an activity if we didn’t run this because, for a lot of disabled children, their life is being taken on the special bus to school and coming home again. They are very isolated. This project gives a huge boost to their social skills and confidence.”
Drury is keen to expand the work the HipHop initiative is doing and is hopeful it can win additional funding to support a weekly swimming group for 11- to 14-year-olds. “This group of kids is really badly catered for and we have a slot at The Forest’s pool so why not make better use of it?”
Being named a children’s champion has been a shot in the arm for Drury and Hamara. “It was amazing to be named one of the 10 champions,” Drury says. “I’d never won anything like that and never thought I would because I was just doing my job. And my manager has told me she feels receiving champion status will help hugely when we apply for grants – it is such a positive endorsement.”
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Published in the 2 July 2009 edition of Community Care under the heading ‘A champion of play’