Local autism support charity Daisy Chain is this year celebrating its fifteenth anniversary.

Daisy Chain was set up in 2003, the dream of its founder Lesley Hanson, whose son Jacob was diagnosed wth autism at an early age.

Lesley quickly became aware of the issues facing parents and carers of children diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. She wanted to create a haven for families, somewhere they could go for support and enjoy activities as a family.

Sadly Lesley died, aged just 35, in 2004 after a routine operation.

Now 15 years on, her family and son Jacob remain delighted that Daisy Chain has continued to grow and expand services to families affected by autism.

The charity has supported over 2,000 families since its inception in 2003 and continuously supports over 2,000 families – almost 600 children per week from toddlers through to adults. It also now offers a whole host of services including educational placements, adult social clubs, supported work placements and an employability course.

Jacob said: “Like the old saying goes from small acorns do mighty oaks grow, and after 15 years in the making it’s amazing to see Daisy Chain blossom. Myself and the rest of my family are all pleased with the great impact Daisy Chain has made in caring for those on the spectrum and raising awareness of autism.

I’d also like to add that I am personally very happy to welcome Stuart as the new chief executive and say a big thank you to all the volunteers, members of staff at Daisy Chain and to all the people who have donated. I thank everyone who has contributed to making my mum’s dream a reality.”

This year Daisy Chain will be celebrating 15 years with a Big Picnic for supporters and is asking people all across the Tees Valley to help raise funds by holding their own Big Picnic this summer.

The Big Picnic will be held at Calf Fallow Farm where Daisy Chain runs a modern day centre as well as a farm to explore which, from the first days of being home to a couple of ponies and goats, now has over 100 animals ranging from alpacas to snakes, lizards, guinea pigs, ducks and many more.

The 5.5 acre site has undergone major development since Albert Dicken, current patron and former Chair of the Trustees, supported Lesley to buy it. As well as the day centre which cost £1m and was opened in 2010, there are also sensory gardens, play areas and the farm now offers entry level 2 and 3 qualifications in animal care. A lot of work has been carried out thanks to support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery who have awarded more than one-and-a-half million pounds to Daisy Chain.

In 2014, Daisy Chain opened its first superstore charity shop at Portrack Lane and was so successful that in 2015 it moved into a former carpet warehouse and larger premises next door. Today, as well as bringing in vital income to support the work of the charity, supported work placements and an employability course are based there.

Stuart Dexter, chief executive of Daisy Chain, said: “I am in my first year at Daisy Chain and I am constantly amazed at the dedication, passion and hard work that everyone involved commits to in order to support families affected by autism.

“Without the unparalleled commitment of our volunteers, staff, fundraisers and our families, Daisy Chain would not be the very special place it is; the place Lesley dreamed of, her vision of a haven for families. I am sure she would also be delighted at how much we have expanded to continue to support many of the young people who are now adults.

“Autism is a lifelong condition and with just 16% in full-time work, a figure that hasn’t changed since 2007, we see a lot of adults struggling to find employment. It is, therefore, vital that support services don’t end when children grow up. They and their families still need support and advice. I look forward to Daisy Chain continuing to grow and expand while remaining true to Lesley’s original dream.”

To celebrate our 15th year, we are asking local businesses, community groups, offices, groups of friends, supermarkets and many more to get involved and host a Big Picnic in aid of Daisy Chain.
You can find out more about our campaign by clicking here.