For the thousands of children that have autism or asperger’s, everyday tasks can become a real challenge, especially playing and socialising. Kind-hearted duo Jill and Richard Kirk recognised this and have launched a new sensory room and exclusive sessions at their play centre to provide a safe environment for youngsters.
The Lanky Bill Fun Shack, in Langley Mill, was taken over by married owners Jill and Richard nine years ago.
The duo took the plunge and left their full-time jobs in order to really ‘make a go’ of the shack.
Jill, 41, said: “I was working a nurse and Richard as an electrician but we both felt ready for a change. After having children ourself we were a lot more ‘child-friendly’ and spent more time taking part in activities for youngsters.
“And we both wanted a new challenge, so when we saw the shack was up for sale we both agreed it was time to try our hand at it, and we haven’t looked back.”
The pair refurbished the centre, which is a soft indoor play area suitable for children from 0 to 1.5 metres tall.
Jill said: “We really wanted to make it our own and spent a lot of time tailoring it to suit the youngsters, which they seemed to enjoy.
“However, the more of a rapport we built up with customers, the more stories we heard about families with kids who had autism or asperger’s. We heard several times that they would enjoy the play centre but would not be able to cope with the busy environment.
“It got us thinking, and we both did a lot of research into the conditions.
“We decided that we wanted to cater for these youngsters, who deserved to be able to play and relax in a safe environment as much as any other.
“And in August we launched new sessions to do just that. We spent a lot of time researching items and activities that would be suitable and kitted out a room with a mirrored disco and sensory toys. There is also a ‘chill out’ space and reading and activity areas with are proving to be very popular already.
“The area is only open at a select time every Tuesday, and we only accept a maximum of 30 children as to give them all the space they need and not cause distress.”
But the sessions aren’t just for the benefit of the youngsters says Jill.
“It isn’t just about the children, it is also a great space for adults to communicate in a friendly environment.
“It also gives parents a space to bond, it is a sort-of informal support group where they can share stories and swap issues or concerns. It is also a regular routine for the child and a great way to make friends.
“We have also formed some brilliant friendships with regulars.
“The job is extremely rewarding and in hindsight, taking on the shack was a great move for us.
“We both enjoy working with children and watching them grow and develop and love seeing them engaging and socialising with each other.
“But it is also great to be able to provide a hub for the community. It unites us and gives everyone a place of comfort. We see all members of family, even grandparents bringing along youngsters to play. It also gives them some much-needed peace and quiet.”
The couple’s work doesn’t end there as they have organised a string of fundraisers including afternoon tea and more recently the Robin Hood Half Marathon.
“It is very important for us to give back to the community, in anyway we can.
“We also have to thank all of our wonderful staff who pull together and work so hard on a daily basis to keep everything running smoothly, especially during the launch of the new sessions.”
For more information about the centre visit: www.lankybills.net.