What’s new 15 years of Daisy Chain 15 years of Daisy Chain - Wendy Shepherd Wendy’s first sight of Daisy Chain was when she and seven other parents with children on the autistic spectrum piled in a minibus and were taken to meet Lesley Hanson. Their children were at Ash Trees School in Billingham and one of the teachers knew the founder of Daisy Chain, Lesley Hanson. "There was the farmhouse and not much more. We had to park on a little space, there was mud everywhere. It didn’t look like much then but Lesley came out with this huge grin on her face and started to tell us how fantastic Daisy Chain was going to be. You could tell from her passion and enthusiasm that she would make it happen." Wendy recalls. Wendy, whose son Ayrton, now 22, was diagnosed with autism at the age of three, began to attend the Links parent support group. "We started off in just a little room in the farmhouse and then we had to knock a wall down to make a bigger room as the group grew," she explains. Sadly, it was just a few weeks later that Lesley died after a routine hospital operation. "All the parents were worried the charity would come to an end when Lesley died. It was her vision, her dream but we, as parents, had the same dream. We wanted somewhere for our children, a haven. Lesley was the bravest as she made it happen." Wendy remembers that the parents were involved with everything at Daisy Chain. "Anything that needed doing we just got on with it and did it." And that was the start of Wendy’s volunteering with the charity although she didn’t officially become a volunteer until 2009. The first club, the gardening club, soon started. "Ayrton loved that, he was in that first group," Wendy smiles. "We made it into an arts and crafts group in the winter months when we couldn’t get out in the garden. It was a lifesaver for me. I was a single parent and there was nowhere really to go when Ayrton was small. He would not join in at toddler groups, just run around the edge. The other parents would sit and talk and I would run after Ayrton. "It was suggested that Daisy Chain should set up a toddler group. After my experiences, I thought it was a great idea and volunteered immediately to help. It was a bit scary at first as no-one came and we were sat with lots of toys in an empty room. Eventually someone came with their child – that child got a lot of attention," she laughs. "After that it really took off and now we get up to 15 children per session." In the early days Wendy spent a lot of time at Daisy Chain, "There was a lot to do, getting the classroom up and running, sorting out the day centre. It was a family; Daisy Chain is like a big family. I would find excuses to go up to the farm as often as possible. The kitchen became known as ‘Wendy’s kitchen’. Daisy Chain has always been there for me. "Being a single parent with an autistic child can be very isolating, especially if Ayrton would get upset when we were out and we would have to come home. Then my mum died in 2008 and Daisy Chain helped me with that. I saw a counsellor there though I think I just sat in the office and cried a lot but it was probably what I needed to do." Wendy, now 43, had Ayrton at 21 and then had intended to return to work but things didn’t work out as she'd hoped as she needed to care for her son full-time. "Before Daisy Chain, I felt like I was on my own. I hardly went anywhere or did anything, just looked after Ayrton." Wendy believes one of the most important things Daisy Chain offers is the opportunity for parents to share experiences. "We have grown up alongside a lot of the families and it is lovely to see them grow and develop. I still love watching the little ones run around at toddlers while I am making the teas and coffees. "I love Daisy Chain, it’s a fantastic place. The place and the people, the family, have been there for me through some tough times and it is good to be able to volunteer and put something back." Aryton now also volunteers with Daisy Chain at the Superstore on Portrack Lane. And Wendy can still be found in the kitchen every Wednesday morning making teas and coffees at toddler group.