Andrew and Julie’s son James was one of the main drivers for Daisy Chain founder Lesley Hanson setting up the charity.

Lesley and husband Duane were best friends with Andrew and Julie – the two couples got married in the same year and their two younger children Jacob and James were born within six months of each other.

Says Julie, “Jacob had some speech and language delay and had been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder so Lesley was familiar with the condition. She was convinced James was autistic too and as James had a number of medical problems including epilepsy, we had questioned health professionals ourselves but had been told he didn’t have autism as he was very sociable.”

As James had other learning difficulties, he attended the Cleveland Unit at Middlesbrough General Hospital before moving on to a specialist primary school.

“Lesley kept saying how alike Jacob and James were in many ways and pushed me to see a consultant and he was then diagnosed at the age of five. Lesley and I were very close and she understood the struggles we were going through. We all used to go on holiday together and she would take James off for a walk then be gone hours because she knew we needed a break.

“When James was in hospital with his medical issues, she would sit with him allowing us to recharge our batteries. Even though she had difficulties with Jacob, she would always think of others and do what she could to help.”

Julie recalls Lesley finding a support group for parents of children with varied learning difficulties, “So we went along looking forward to hearing what activities they would have in the school holidays only to find out they were breaking up for the summer. It was very upsetting as the six week holidays were especially difficult trying to fill in all that time with nowhere to go. James was now nearly seven and as he grew older his behaviour could be very hard to handle. We did get a little bit of respite care organised but James didn’t enjoy going at all so it was a nightmare even trying to get him there.”

Together Julie and Lesley ran a church toddler group, “Lesley and Duane came around to our house every Friday night because we could not get sitters for James and she kept talking about this recurring dream. She had a notepad by the bed in which she would jot down ideas in the night. Her vision was of a farm with the children running around and lots of animals, where families living with autism could get respite.”

Andrew adds, “It all sounded amazing but an absolutely huge undertaking, however Lesley was so passionate when she talked about it you could believe she would make it happen.”

Julie recalls, “We went all over the place talking to people to get them fundraising, we sang Jerusalem numerous times at local WI groups before Lesley would get up to share her vision. We had the soft play donated just from Lesley talking to a pub owner. Many properties were viewed but it was when we visited Calf Fallow Farm she just said ‘wow, this is it’. Then Albert Dicken bought the farm through the Goshen Trust and it started to happen.”

And the fundraising continued in earnest to get Daisy Chain up and running. Andrew recalls, “Our eldest son Tom did a Boxing Day dip, we set up the first annual ball and the boat race, then we were out collecting anywhere and everywhere. We did the gardens at the farm on the weekends, Julie did the accounts, we got the first Daisy Bear, it was all amazing. We can’t believe it’s been 15 years since it started, James has enjoyed many of the activities and recently completed the employability course and volunteered at the Superstore. He has also done a few discos at Daisy Chain, he loves music and regularly DJs. He gets bookings for birthdays and Christmas.”

The family are regular visitors to the Daisy Chain Superstore where James, now 23, loves browsing the records for his decks.

Says Julie, “It’s fantastic how much it has grown and the support it offers. It is everything Lesley dreamed of.”

“And even more,” Andrew adds.

19th June 2018