Leah Hanson, daughter of Daisy Chain founder Lesley Hanson, is delighted that her late mam’s legacy lives on and this year, the charity that was Lesley’s dream celebrated its fifteenth anniversary.

For Leah, the memory of her mam’s achievements in setting up Daisy Chain, is also kept alive with her own two children, Max, seven and six-year-old Ruby.

“We talk about my mam a lot. Daisy Chain was a huge part of our lives 15 years ago when myself and my brother Jacob were young. Max and Ruby call the Daisy Chain superstore ‘Grandma Lesley’s shop’. And when we visit the farm and Day Centre, they are so proud to tell their friends that it is Grandma Lesley’s charity.”

Lesley Hanson, founder of Daisy Chain, with son Jacob
Lesley with son, Jacob

Lesley set up Daisy Chain after her son Jacob, Leah’s brother, was diagnosed with ASD and her best friends Julie and Andrew Barnett also had a son with the condition. Leah explains, “Jacob and James were born close together but while Jacob had his difficulties, James was more severely affected. My mam helped Julie a lot. She could see families with children with autism needed more support. Then she had the dream of a place where people could go, where their children could play and parents could get support and advice.

“From that moment, Daisy Chain was in our lives every day,” Leah smiles. “Before the farm, Daisy Chain was being run from our house. There would be boxes of Daisy Bears piled up, t-shirts being delivered, people calling round all the time, meetings held in our house. I remember vividly her and dad coming home after going for a meal and saying they had a soft play donated. We would spend ages standing in Middlesbrough Bus Station with the first cheap t-shirts on and ordinary buckets with just a Daisy Chain sticker on trying to raise money. All my school friends would come and help too.”

But it was nothing that Leah, 32, wasn’t used to. Lesley was devoted to helping people. Before Jacob was born, the family fostered, specialising in hard to place teenagers. “I might have been an only child until Jacob was born but I was never on my own. The house was filled with teenagers, there were mother and baby placements, social workers visiting. My mam was one of those people who always wanted to help. I would come home from school and there would be someone who needed help arriving and staying.”

As Lesley was trying to raise the money to get premises for Daisy Chain, Leah recalls how nervous she was when she was speaking at events to gather support for the project. “She would worry about everything – what she was going to say, what she was going to wear. My mam had some health problems, she had epilepsy and a damaged knee through sport so she missed a lot of school. Writing a speech would not have been something she would be comfortable with. But the more she spoke at events, the better she got at it. Everyone admired her; she was very inspiring because she spoke from the heart, from genuine compassion.

“My mam was very determined to set up Daisy Chain and it really did take over our house and our lives.”

Leah was 17 and Jacob just seven years old when Lesley died suddenly after a routine operation. “It was a massive shock to all of us, it was totally unexpected. Because the Gazette had helped support Daisy Chain by giving it publicity, it was a big story when she died. I remember walking into the Spar in Yarm and seeing the papers piled up with mam’s face on the front page of them all. 

“Looking back, mam was not involved with Daisy Chain for that long, just a couple of years really. At that time, there was just the farm with the house and the barn where we had a couple of little goats, one of which Jacob called Carrie-Anne after a little girl at school he adored. But when mam died, I think the publicity and the people she inspired helped Daisy Chain to get established. People were determined to make her dream happen which was amazing.

“I visited Daisy Chain with my friends, who were involved in those early stages raising money, and their children. Walking through that main entrance and seeing what Daisy Chain is now makes me so proud. I am truly impressed with what Daisy Chain has become and the amount of support it provides to families.”

Leah and Jacob HansonLeah’s brother Jacob, 23 is now working for an outward-bound company, leading activities and expeditions. Leah says, “This year has been a brilliant experience for him. He is away from home, doing something he loves and socialising, going out with friends. We miss him so much, Max was devastated when he went but it has made a huge difference in his life and how he copes with his ASD.”

For Leah, there is an element of following in her mam’s footsteps as she qualified as a social worker in 2009. For seven years she worked as a frontline child protection social worker for Stockton Borough Council before becoming the manager of The Children’s Hub, for Stockton and Hartlepool local authorities in June 2016.

Over this fifteenth anniversary year, Daisy Chain has celebrated the anniversary by gathering the stories of the families and volunteers who worked tirelessly in those early years to make Lesley’s dream a reality. Leah says, “It has been amazing to read those stories, lovely for me. It’s brought back so many memories of my mam as well as Daisy Chain.”