In this week’s JMA In Action Story, we’re putting the spotlight on an amazing organisation based in the North of Glasgow, The DASH (Disability After School Holiday) Club. They work with young people with complex support needs, and over their 17-years, have constantly strived to promote health, well-being, social skills and self-confidence through an after schools programme that has gone from strength to strength. In September 2016, The JMA Trust awarded The DASH Club a grant of £2000. Earlier this year, Sean Stirling, their Development Officer, and Mary Cuttle, their Project Manager, were kind enough to take some time out of their busy summer schedules to talk to our Team. Read on to find out more…

Sean explained that in 1998 and 1999, there was a strong calling from parents and guardians of children attending Milton School, frustrated and concerned with the fact that their young people had absolutely no options to attend after school activities, and there were no suitable facilities that their teenage sons and daughters could access. “It started off as this small after schools’ programme, for young people with disabilities to be able to engage with their peer group and be more socially accepted and socially integrated.” In the years since, the DASH Club has experienced a lot of changes, moving their base to Ashton School, when Milton School merged with Ashcraig School, and now being able to welcome any young people, within this school and others, who could be transported to them.

“We work with 12 – 18 year olds, secondary school young people with additional support needs. They come to us on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and we currently run our sessions from 3.15 till 5.15. On a Tuesday, we run a swimming session up at Ashton School, and we run a coaching session there too; that’s partly what JMA funding is helping towards. On a Wednesday, we run a drama session here at PossilPoint for half the group, and the other half go to the AMF bowling down at the Quayside. On a Thursday, we’re back at Ashton school, where we run art sessions, aromatherapy sessions, and again, the JMA support coaching sessions up there. Afterwards, we transport the young people home using a local community transport organisation called NATA.”

People begin to attend The DASH Club through word of mouth at the school or through the school nurses referring to and from DASH. The team also go and talk to the parents of the new influx of students, holding a meet and greet to explain what they do, and to also discuss the amount of training the staff have had. Sean also explains how beneficial their new bond with Ashton school is, in ensuring they are able to appropriately cater to everyone’s needs. “Since we’ve settled, we’ve started to build the relationship with the school, and the health and wellbeing and NHS nurses. We’ve got all of them on board with us. When we get referrals from parents and young people, we can go and meet the nurses, to see what the support roles are, what their medication requires, their support needs throughout the day, so that we can make sure we’ve got all of that health and safety aspect in place. It also helps us build a sort of profile, so that we have that background knowledge on the young person; if there’s things they don’t like, if there’s triggers, and that’s where we liaise with the parents too… to offer the parents what we do each night and what night they think would be a good initial first night for the young person to attend, so that we can hopefully engage on a positive note the first time they come.”

“We’ve got 18 members of staff, they don’t work every session but of course, the sessions need to be staffed adequately for the young people. Most of the young people that come to our service are one to one support, whether that’s through behavioural issues, medical issues or support issues. It’s a mix most evenings. Throughout the three nights, we have 37 different young people who access the days. Some attend one night, or two or three. It just depends on what their family feel is best for them to join, and depending on the young person likes.”

DASH really do go over and above to make sure that each individual young person gains the most from their services. “There’s quite a few things the young people get from this. We try and set some targets throughout the year for young people, depending on the cognitive and learning development skills of the young people, it’s how long we set those targets for. We have a staff meeting every Thursday, to evaluate how the last week has gone, if there’s been any incidents or anything like that. A lot of the staff here work in different social care jobs as well, so if they’ve seen something in a different workplace that they feel we could benefit from here, or something that they feel the young people could access, we’ll look into that.”

“We also look for the staff, more so now, if they see a young person developing in the session, to take note of that. The changes can be simple things, like if they’re going swimming and they’re managing to undress themselves and dress themselves, pack their own swimming stuff away, feed themselves, simple things like that. Further on that, maybe seeing improvements in confidence, self-awareness, better engagement with young people, the social aspect of it. Also when we’re out in public, being aware of that social presence and how to act appropriately within the public eye, never mind just within their own group of peers in a closed session. Other simple things such as accessing different buildings, there’s a lot of our young people who are quite high on the autistic spectrum, so even transitioning from one room to another can prove challenging, or working with a different member of staff. So what we do during our sessions, from week to week, we try to change the member of staff who’s working with the young person, so that they get used to change, and that change isn’t as big a deal for them. It’s just trying to hit all these targets so that the young person can eventually start to develop, no matter how small or big it is, if things are changing that they’re not used to, it’s not as big a deal as it initially was when we first met them.”

“Again, the social integration for us is a big thing. Many years ago, people with disabilities were put in a corner. Nobody was interacting with them or they were seen as alienated in a way. So one of our biggest focusses is to try get them socially active out in the community.”

The DASH Club applied to the JMA Trust for a grant of £2000, which would enable them to continue their sporting activities within the programme, and further add new sports to provide some change and excitement for the young people. This funding pays for external coaches to come in, who set up four or eight week blocks of different activities. “They’ve done things like wheelchair football and wheelchair rugby. This is also because they look to challenge the young ambulant people, so they have wheelchairs specifically designed for ambulant people to use. That means they can play with their friends who are in wheelchairs. They’ve played curling and football and basketball. The more boisterous young people enjoy the wheelchair rugby most, because they get to smash into each other and it doesn’t hurt anybody.”

“The coaches also take them to fitness sessions. So when the weather is good, we have adapted bikes up at the school as well, and Hogganfield Loch is just at the back of it, so the coaches will take them out when it’s nicer weather and encourage them to go round the Loch if they’d like, or stop in at the park. So this helps improve their health and fitness too.”

It was fantastic to hear about some of the feedback that the team receive. “Most of the time, the parent’s motivation comes from looking for respite for themselves, for the more challenging young people, or needing a break out-with school and things like that. The feedback we get is that they can spend more time with other siblings, or go out and enjoy a meal, or relax in the house, always knowing that their young person is being well looked after in a safe environment. Almost every parent has commented on how it allows the young people to go out and be socially active with their friends, rather than just their family all the time. They’ve not got the cognitive abilities to go out and phone one another, and ask to go to McDonalds, the pictures, or swimming, without having a lot of support along with it. So it gives them the ability to be treated like a normal teenager, they’re getting to do the same as others can do.”

A massive JMA Thankyou to Sean, Mary, and all of the team at The DASH Club. You do fantastic work for the community, and your programmes make an incredible difference in these young people’s lives. Keep it up!

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