Mandy Winter and daughter Charlotte were one of the first families to visit Daisy Chain and now Charlotte is 21, they still attend the Saturday activity sessions together.

Many of the people involved in Daisy Chain from its beginning remember Mandy and Charlotte as one of the first families to use the services at Calf Fallow Farm.

Mandy explains, “One thing Charlotte loved was to wear a swimsuit, she wouldn’t wear anything else and she would happily run around the farm in that and her wellies so she was instantly recognisable. That was one of the best things about Daisy Chain – no-one batted an eyelid,” says Mandy.

Over the years, Charlotte built up her routine on activity days with colouring in the classroom, baking, soft play, a turn on the Wii and Mandy is over the moon that she has been able to continue enjoying that, even though she is now a young adult.

Charlotte is severely autistic and non-verbal. When she was two-years-old, Mandy noticed that she stopped responding. “You could make a really loud noise near her and there would be no reaction. At first, I thought it was a problem with her hearing. The health visitor referred us to the paediatrician at North Tees Hospital and within one hour of assessment she was diagnosed as autistic.”

Mandy recalls, “It was a massive shock, I had no idea what to do. I knew nothing about autism and there wasn’t as much known about it then. There was very little information out there and Daisy Chain didn’t exist then.”

Initially Charlotte attended a special needs nursery at the hospital before attending a specialist primary school. “Charlotte had a lot of sensory and behavioural problems so it was recommended she attended a residential school when she reached 11.”

Charlotte attended school and college in Sunderland run by the National Autistic Society and has since moved on to an adult training placement. She returns home to Stockton each weekend and attends Daisy Chain’s Saturday activity day each week.

“It was heart-breaking to have to let her go, it felt like such an extreme thing to do but I had to take the risk and as it had been recommended, I felt I could trust them to give her the right interventions to make her life easier and happier. It was hard to get used to her being away during the week but seeing the difference it made to her was amazing. The routines they could put in place really suited her and these days she is very calm and chilled.”

However, in the early days it was Daisy Chain that Mandy relied on. “The first time we went to the farm was not long after Lesley had started Daisy Chain and it was just the farmhouse. Lesley showed us around and told us of her plans. She was amazing,” Mandy reflects and just the memory brings a smile to her face.

“Lesley was so passionate about her idea of somewhere parents could go for respite and their children could play and no-one would be judgemental. It was infectious, we were all really excited about her vision. The parents group got underway and I can recall how we would squeeze into a tiny room, less than a dozen of us but we were a tight, cohesive group.

 “It was a shock to lose Lesley but I am so glad the momentum she created was enough for the people involved with her to carry on and build her dream. Daisy Chain has helped Charlotte a lot and she really loves it. It was such a relief that she can still go to the activity days and that as long as she needs to do so Daisy Chain will welcome her. It’s been a major part of our life for those 15 years and I hope it will continue to be so.”

June 2018