Alan and Barbara Cummings have vivid memories of the friendship their late son Scott had with Daisy Chain founder Lesley Hanson.

The pair were school friends and when Lesley, a promising athlete, had a bad knee injury Scott spent weeks pushing her everywhere in wheelchair. “He was pushing her around everywhere, causing havoc, the pair of them,” Alan laughs.

So later, when Lesley had her vision of a haven for families affected by autism, Alan and Barbara were ready to roll up their sleeves and help her make Daisy Chain a reality.

Says Barbara, “Lesley told us she was thinking of setting up a charity because there was nothing in the area for people affected by autism. The first talk she gave on it was to Eaglescliffe Women’s Institute and she was frightened to death at first to stand up and talk.”

That didn’t last as Lesley’s passion and eloquence soon gained her a loyal band of helpers, including Alan and Barbara. “We used to do collections, get the school children to fill Smarties tubes with 20ps, quizzes - anything to raise some cash to get started,” Barbara recalls.

Both Barbara and Alan visited a farm with Lesley to see if that was a suitable base for Daisy Chain. “We tidied it up and scrubbed it but it wasn’t the right place.” Then Lesley found Calf Fallow Farm in Norton up for sale and both Barbara and Alan were in agreement that it was the right place. 

“It is a lovely place and a lovely house with a very special feel about it. I thought that the first time I set foot in it,” says Barbara.

For five years the couple were helping out at the farm four times a week. “My first job was to put the ribbon sashes on the bears,” laughs Barbara.

Alan, a retired fireman, adds, “One of my first jobs was to help get the fence put up. That was a big job and get rid of some of the old barns, we had to get the sledgehammers out. It was physically demanding.”

The couple, now 74, recall the memorable day when comedy duo Cannon and Ball visiting the farm to push the button to demolish a disused barn. “It was very good publicity for Daisy Chain,” says Alan.

“We had a lot of fun, we were the gofers,” Alan smiles. Barbara chips in, “We made the tea for the parents’ meetings, whatever was needed, cleaning the loos - everyone just mucked in. We even had a ceilidhin the barn to raise funds.” 

“And every Christmas we had to help Lesley’s son Jacob put the fairy on top of the Christmas tree in the farmhouse,” Alan adds.

The couple joined Lesley and the other volunteers on the first ever collection in Hartlepool town centre. Says Alan, “I remember this one young lad coming to the stall and being so moved about what we were doing he went to the cash point, took out a ten pound note and came and put it in the collection.”

“Then we went back to Lesley’s house and tipped the money all over the floor in the lounge to count it. We were so excited because we had raised a bit of money,” Barbara adds.

For Alan, what was particularly memorable was the parents’ meetings, The Links support group. “Daisy Chain managed to get contacts in the local authorities and services in and brought in experts to talk to the parents. You could really see the difference it made to them to get access to people who could give information and advice. Also, the parents were able to support each other with the knowledge and experience they had gained, they really supported each other.”

Barbara agrees, “So many mums and dads came through this house. We didn’t know anything about autism but we learned a lot and Daisy Chain has done so much over the years to raise awareness and educate people about what autism is and how it affects families.

“All those little donations over the years and how they have mounted up. People giving what they could and every penny counted until you have the facilities you see there today.”