A KIND-HEARTED team of travel agents are raising vital funds for a charity-run play centre which has provided a ‘safe sanctuary’ for the store manager’s autistic nephew.
Staff at Hays Travel Bolton have chosen the Boomerang multi-sensory play centre based in Bury as the charity it wants to support during 2018 – a cause which is close to the heart of branch manager Toni Smith.
Boomerang founder and managing director Emma Birkett is a close friend of Toni, whose nine-year-old autistic nephew Callum has been a regular visitor to the play centre in Woodhill Street since it opened six years ago.
The charity was formed in 2007 and set about raising £250,000 to open what is now the largest multi-sensory centre in the region catering specifically for youngsters with complex learning difficulties, although all children are welcome.
Hays Travel North West, which is the UK’s fastest growing independent travel agency, asks each of its 28 stores to generate at least £500 for a chosen charity every year and then doubles the total of the highest fundraising branch.
Bolton branch manager Toni, 42, said: “Boomerang is a charity that’s close to my heart because it has helped my nephew Callum and was set up by my friend Emma.
“She has a disabled daughter and found she had nowhere to take her so she gave up her job and set up the charity. They then raised enough funds to open the centre.
“My nephew has autism and it’s somewhere he can go that’s safe and is not too noisy as he really dislikes noise.
“It’s hard work keeping it going every year so I’m so glad we can play our part and help.
“It’s a fantastic cause and Emma has worked so hard to make it really successful.”
Toni, who lives in Bury with her catering company owner husband Daniel, added: “I wanted everyone in the team to be happy with the choice of charity, and not just support it because it’s my friend.
“This year the team were really keen to do something to help children so Boomerang was perfect. It’s also a local charity.
“Emma actually books her holidays with us so everyone knows her and what she’s achieved with the charity.”
Toni’s younger sister Terri Wild says the centre is a sanctuary for both her and Callum as it’s a place where they both feel comfortable and are not judged.
The 38-year-old, who also lives in Bury, said: “Callum doesn’t like noise or when places are too busy. It’s certain pitches of noise that affect him.
“It’s really difficult to go to a mainstream soft play for that reason, particularly as we can only go at the weekends or school holidays when they’re at their busiest.
“Emma is a friend of mine and Toni’s so we knew her before she opened the centre. I helped with the fundraising to get it open.
“It’s a place that Callum can go where he’s inclusive. People don’t judge you. Callum can go into crisis quite a lot and his tantrums can be embarrassing but at the centre I feel relaxed.
“Callum really likes the soft play area. It’s not too busy and I can go in with him so I know where he is at all times.
“I’d struggle to go anywhere with Callum if we didn’t have the centre. It’s a place that’s safe and builds his skills.
“It’s also great for parents. There is a nice cafe so you can get something to eat and drink and have a chat.
“You meet parents with smaller children who might not be as far down their journey as others so the centre provides a support network for them.
“I’m so happy that Hays Travel in Bolton are supporting the centre this year. It’s a safe and special sanctuary for me and Callum and something that we need to keep going.”
Boomerang managing director Emma Birkett has thanked the seven-strong team at Hays Travel Bolton for their vital support.
She said: “We’re only a small charity so when someone picks us as a cause to support it means a lot.
“We’re so grateful to Toni and the team at Hays Travel in Bolton. It’s amazing that they’re going to be raising money for us this year.
“We have a shortfall every year of about £15,000 which we need to raise ourselves so it’s always a big ask.
“The support of Hays Travel will be a huge help and they will be able to see first-hand how we benefit from the funding. It doesn’t just go into a pot, it’s helping people directly from their community.”
Staff at Hays Travel in Bolton will also be supporting Boomerang by taking part in a number of the charity’s scheduled fundraising events.
They include a quiz night at the Elton Liberal Club in Bury on April 20, a live music night at the same venue on June 30, and a trek to the summit of Snowdon in September.
Don Bircham, Managing Director for Hays Travel North West, said: “Boomerang is a wonderful charity which has supported so many children, as well as their families, from across the North West region and as far as Wales.
“I know it’s a cause that Toni is very supportive of and I’m sure she and her team will be doing all they can this year to raise as much money as possible for the centre.”
Emma set up the charity with the aim of providing somewhere for her daughter Ellie, now 16, to play in an environment that was accessible, safe and fun.
Ellie, who has autism, severe learning difficulties and is non-verbal, was three years old when Emma found that a lot of mainstream play provision in her area was completely unsuitable.
The mum-of-three, from Bury, said: “It was heartbreaking as a mum to go out in to my community and feel so isolated and judged with everyone staring at Ellie because she was different.
“It wasn’t just access that was an issue – Ellie was in a wheelchair – but also the lack of appropriate changing facilities and play provision offered that was appropriate for her due to her developmental delay.
“When Ellie started at a special school I started to make friends with other parents and we came to conclusion that we needed to do something to change the opportunities available for our children.
“A small group of us came together and started fundraising with the aim to provide a centre that would cater for not only our children but all the children in our community and the surrounding areas.”
During the past six years Boomerang has welcomed more than 201,000 children from all over the North West with a wide range of needs.
The centre boasts a large soft play area, a sensory room, an interactive room, and cafe.
To find out more about Boomerang go to www.boomerangcentre.co.uk