THERE’S no shortage of excellent services for people with disabilities in Hexham – from Hextol and Minerva to the Priory School and many more besides.

But one that certainly can’t be accused of blowing its own trumpet is WeCan – or We Enable Children with Additional Needs.

The charity has been around in various guises since 1996, providing community-based support for children and young people with disabilities, additional and complex needs, aged between six and 19 to access leisure and social activities.

The main service offered by WeCan is the Saturday Club, which meets every week during term time. It also offers activity sessions in school holidays on different timetables.

Service manager Hayley Armstrong joined WeCan in 2012, with the charity struggling for funding.

“When I joined the team in 2012, it needed some leadership,” Hayley said. “The reality of it was it was a small charity and it does need some support, and that had been lost.”

The charity is governed by a board of eight trustees, chaired by former traffic policeman, Alan Nelson.

Explaining the role of the board, Alan said: “It’s about governance primarily. We oversee finance, HR, and safeguarding.

“Each member of the trustee board has a particular job. We have a treasurer, a vice-chair, a chair – everybody has a skill.

“It’s about having the time, the effort, and the commitment to do it.

“We want to keep moving forward, which is why we try to keep everybody in post for three years, otherwise you don’t get any new ideas.

“Small charities struggle, that’s what they do. It’s about getting your name out there.

“Part of that was rebranding and changing the whole ethos of what we do.”

The charity moved to providing community support, as opposed to the work of most charities that work with disabled children, which are based in a centre.

Hayley continued: “We now have 48 staff on our books, and that’s because the needs of the children, young people and adults we work with.

“We make sure those needs are met, including those that need one-to-one support. We work with more than 50 children in South-West Northumberland.

“Nobody else does what we do, we’re very unique.

“Regardless of the health concerns, people with disabilities want to do the same things we want to do.

“They’re a child, or a young person that’s what we see. Their disability comes second.

“People are in awe of how we do it.

“Northumberland County Council has asked us to replicate what we do in North Tyneside and North Northumberland.”

The main hub of activities for the charity during term time is the Wentworth Leisure Centre. Children and young people accessing the service can then choose what they want to do.

The support staff come from a range of backgrounds, but WeCan have a particularly strong relationship with Queen Elizabeth High School.

Many students either volunteer to work at WeCan, while others find paid employment there.

Hayley continued: “In finding the right staff, you have to want to work with the children and young people.

“We want bubbly staff. If you’re working with children, you have to be prepared to be like the child’s parents, and you have to interact with them.

“We’ve been told by a lot of parents we have a fantastic team of staff. We’ve got a mix of people working with us, from 16 to retirement age.

“We’ve got links with the local schools, in terms of recruitment, both QEHS and Hexham Middle School.

“We recruit a lot of staff from QE, both volunteers and paid staff.”

WeCan has recently started to provide services for adults as well as children.

The move came after many young people leaving the service had no idea where to turn to next.

Hayley explained: “What was happening was people were leaving us at 19, having formed friendships here.

“Because of the lack of opportunities for people with disabilities, the only time they had to socialise was here and school.

“The services provided for children, statutory services, they just aren’t there in adult services. A lot of our people leave the Priory and go to adult services, and they’re told that their time at WeCan is coming to an end. That’s a lot to take.

“They left here and had nothing, so we decided to plug that gap and create the adult service.”

Alan continued: “It was launched in April. It started off as once a month, and now it’s fortnightly.

“It’s surprising. When we did our business plan for it, we just didn’t know but we have the natural flow from the children’s section, so we have a ready supply.

Then there’s others that come too.”

WeCan, like any charity, relies on donations from the community, but it is particularly well supported by local businesses.

Both Egger and Tynedale Lions are firm supporters of WeCan.

Alan said: “Without charitable donations, we wouldn’t exist the way we do.

“We’re really well supported by Tynedale Lions and Egger; they’re really good with us.

“It’s a home charity. The money stays in the county as it’s for the county kids.”

With support for the charity evident, WeCan is now fund-raising for a new facility for Hexham it hopes will be used by the wealth of support services.

It was hoped that enough money could be raised to pay for a sensory room – a specially-designed room which combines a range of stimuli, such as lights and soft play items.

The rooms help individuals develop and engage their senses.

Hayley explained: “We want it to be a community room. There isn’t a community access sensory room in Hexham. There’s so many groups that could use it. Sensory rooms are amazing if they’re done properly. It’s unbelievable that Hexham doesn’t have that.”

However, finding the funding will be a challenge.

“It’s going to be upwards of £20,000,” said Alan. “So we have to raise that money. We have to look for other avenues of funding.

“We’re hoping to have it up and running as soon as possible.”