IT’S that time of year – the tail end of winter – when many of us are dreaming of sunnier days whilst leafing through travel brochures prior to booking our summer holidays.

For most families that will be a fairly straightforward matter, but for those with a disabled child, trying to find somewhere that caters for their loved one’s specialist needs can be a nightmare.

Lorna Common knows the problems all too well. Her eldest son, Edward, has the muscle wasting condition Duchenne muscular dystrophy and Lorna and her husband, Graham, have to undertake an enormous amount of research before they can even consider taking a break.

“You ask all these questions when you book places and they say it’s all accessible and then you turn up and it isn’t,” Lorna said.

“I once booked a hotel and explained that I had a son in a wheelchair and would I be able to get into the en-suite. They told me they’d never encountered any problems before and then we went and you couldn’t negotiate the door into the bathroom.”

To be able to stay somewhere that has been ergonomically designed with disabled people in mind, then, was a real Godsend for the family when Edward, now 22, was a child – which is where a little-known Tynedale voluntary organisation came into play.

The Haltwhistle-based Chin Up charity runs a seaside holiday and respite house on the Northumberland coast for children with progressive or terminal illnesses.

Originally the brainchild of Wideopen couple Maureen and David Nicolaou, it grew out of their desire to establish a children’s hospice in the region.

And when Halton Lea Gate resident Maureen Hardcastle heard about their bid to raise £2m to build the facility, she decided to get involved.

Maureen had just lost her seven year old grandson, Steven, to cancer and had been so impressed by the Manchester hospice that cared for him that when she read of the Nicolaous’ quest, she immediately phoned up and offered to fund-raise.

Maureen turned out to have an amazing gift for getting people to put their hands in their pockets, but as it became clear that a hospice was going to take far too long to establish, the focus switched from hospice to holiday home.

Maureen became the chair of Chin Up whilst her husband, Trevor, was treasurer from shortly after the charity’s 1994 launch to last March, when the couple stepped down to make way for younger trustees and fresh ideas.

For over two decades they had worked tirelessly to ensure parents in a similar position to their own daughter and son-in-law were able to have a precious holiday together – which sometimes, sadly, might be their last with their loved one.

The holiday house in Seahouses, just five minutes’ from the beach, opened in 2006 and between 30 and 40 families from all over the country come to enjoy a Northumberland break each year, safe in the knowledge their child will have everything they need – from specially-widened doorways to adapted furniture and hoists.

Edward Common is now 22 and studying computer games design and production at Northumbria University, but he was one of the first youngsters to benefit from a stay at ‘Jonathan’s House’, named after a young boy that founder Maureen Nicolaou had once cared for.

Edward’s mum, Lorna, said: “We have stayed at the house twice and it’s so relaxing. The first time we went was shortly after Edward was first diagnosed and we had loads of appointments to go to, so it was an escape from all the hospital visits and just time for me, Graham and Gemma to be a family, without any interruptions.”

Edward has an older sister Gemma, 23, and younger brother, Joseph, 13, and Lorna said it was just as important for siblings of children with disabilities to get a break away from routine as their parents.

She added: “What is so great is that the house has been totally adapted. For example, the garage has been made into a wet room and the downstairs bedroom has got hoists and a night bed for someone to stay in the room with the disabled child.

“They even have a buggy that will travel on sand so you can take your disabled child onto the beach and you don’t worry about getting your wheelchair stuck in the sand. That sounds trivial, but it’s not. It’s really a home from home.”

Keeping Jonathan’s House running costs Chin Up £16,000 a year. “That’s how much we have to raise just to break even,” said new chair Lynn Dixon. “We rely entirely on donations and fund-raising.”

Both Lynn, from Haltwhistle, and treasurer Carol Drummond, from Hexham, have been involved in the charity for five years through being friends with Maureen Hardcastle.

“Maureen has a way of roping you in,” laughed Carol, who met her because she coaches her grandsons in judo.

Along with fellow trustees and a committed band of other volunteers, they run regular coffee mornings, a Lambley Viaduct abseil each July and Lynn’s daughter, Lilli-Pearl, has organised a music night in Carlisle that she hopes to repeat. A Hadrian’s Singers concert in December also raised £400.

But to help them hit their fund-raising target this year, they’ve decided to hold their very first ball in three weeks’ time at Hexham Mart’s Tynedale Function Suite.

Well, ball is probably too fancy a name for it, as the very reasonable £25 ticket price reflects.

Billed as a ‘Celebration and Dinner Dance’, guests will enjoy a hot meal, live music and an auction and raffle.

“I would like everyone to come together to have some fun and raise as much money as we can,” said Lynn.

They’ve already been donated some fantastic raffle prizes. “We went down to the Mart to organise the dinner with the chef and he said he’d give us a meal for up to six people. He’s giving his own time to go to someone’s house and cook for them.

“Ernie Coe is doing the compering and auction and we’ve a lot of cracking raffle prizes, as local businesses in Hexham have been really supportive.”

l The dinner dance is on Saturday, March 11. For details ring (01434) 322001.