South West charity faces closure

Bridgwater Mercury: WENDY O'Carroll with Paige. WENDY O'Carroll with Paige.

AN inspirational charity which provides a lifeline for families affected by Down Syndrome faces the end of the road if it cannot find funding.

Ups and Downs SouthWest was form-ed by Wendy O’Carroll almost 18 years ago after the birth of her son Oliver.

And from its beginnings as a ‘friend in need’ for parents trying to get to grips with the news their infant has Down Syndrome, the organisation has flourished and grown to its current position where it works with 500 families and 250 schools across the South-West.

Wendy, who lives in Westonzoyland, went into hospital to have her second child, assuming all would go according to plan.

She clearly remembers the moment her life changed, when the doctors told her that her baby boy had Down Syndrome. 

She said: "You expect to be handed your perfect baby and you have a vision of your child’s wonderful future, like a beautiful stained glass window. But then someone suddenly comes along with news that shatters your imaginings and you are left searching for something to put in its place."

Reeling from the news - "my perception of Down Syndrome then was unfortunately the same as many people’s outdated stereotypical image" – she was put in a side room on her own and says she "wept her heart out".

She said: "My way of coping is to get my hands on as much information as I can so I read and read – everything I could lay my hands on about Down Syndrome and I was determined by son was going to be amazing.

“It made me think there must be other people going through what I was who needed this information too.”

Wendy approached Musgrove Park Hospital, where Oliver was born, and offered herself as a contact for people going through the trauma she had been through.

She said: “Musgrove was fantastic and very happy to pass on my number.”

About 90 babies a year are born with Down Syndrome in the South-West and soon Wendy was counselling and advising many of them.

Ups and Downs South-West was born and from small beginnings has become a lifeline to hundreds of families, running youth groups, family fun days and providing information to families.
But that support is at risk if funding isn’t forthcoming.

Wendy said: “The Big Lottery has been very supportive and we have had five lottery grants. But our final grant is coming to an end next year and that will put the whole organisation at risk.

“That’s why we’re launching a campaign for individual donors, small businesses, corporate sponsors etc to come on board. £27,000 will provide a much-needed full-time family support worker. Every little helps.

For more details or to find out how you can help, go to upsanddowns.net, call 01278 691100 and search facebook.com/UpsandDownsSouthwest

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