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Bringing a smile to children

499. Sian Cook

A Newbury mum created a specialist play area serving over 300 children with special needs and their families including siblings.

Sian will be presented with her award by Chris Tarrant and Richard Benyon MP at a fundraising event held at Englefield House on Friday 18 March.

Sian Cook founded charity Swings & Smiles in 2007 to raise funds to create an indoor and outdoor recreation facility in Newbury. Through her fundraising she has been able to provide an environment where children with special needs and their family can play together without the pressures they sometimes feel in wider community settings. Many children are also able to have a birthday party with friends for the first time.

Swings & Smiles differs from other centres for children with special needs because it concentrates on the whole family. The centre has special services for siblings and drop in coffee mornings for parents. It also provides a safe environment where parents and children will not face judgement or stares for their special needs at the centre so can play freely. Sian is a carer for her daughter Amy, now 18, who has special needs. It was after Sian realised there was nowhere within 40 miles where families like hers could play together that she set about to create a specialist facility. In 2014 the facility opened its doors, and has since welcomed over 300 children.

Along with her team, Sian has organised a huge amount of different fundraising events. These include sponsored sports events, carol services, annual golf days, quiz night, cycle rides and partnering with local shops – raising a total of £500,000. Sian has even teamed up with a local bakery who have named a new loaf and cupcake after Amy, with a proportion of the sales going to Swings & Smiles.

Her upcoming fundraiser on Friday 18 March will see patron Chris Tarrant hosting a Quiz Night at Englefield House, the historic home of Richard Benyon MP who is also patron of the charity. The event includes a drinks reception, three-course dinner, quiz and auctions, all to raise money for Swings & Smiles.

The facility is currently housed in the Phoenix Resource Centre – sharing the building with West Berkshire Council who have services for adults with learning disabilities, physical disabilities and for those with frailty and dementia. Sian’s ultimate ambition is to build their own centre and hopes this will happen in the very near future.

Prime Minister David Cameron said:

“With Swings & Smiles, Sian has created a fantastic place where families with disabled children can play together in a supported environment. Thanks to her tireless fundraising and commitment, hundreds of families now have indoor and outdoor recreational facilities they can enjoy with other families who understand the additional challenges they face. To those families, Sian is truly a Point of Light.”

Sian said:

“I am incredibly honoured to be a recipient of this award. I know it is often said but this is truly a team effort. At Swings & Smiles, I have a wonderful team who have been with me right from the beginning. Through all their commitment and dedication, we have been able to support over 250 families who have a child with special needs. I am so proud to receive this award on behalf of the charity. It is wonderful to see so many families benefiting from Swings & Smiles which makes all the hard work over the last few years so very worthwhile.”

Richard Benyon, MP for Newbury, said:

“Sian is one of my local heroes. Through her vision and drive she has transformed the lives of profoundly disabled children and their families. I could not be more delighted that she has been recognised with a Points of Light award. She is an inspiration.”

The daily Points of Light award recognises outstanding individual volunteers - people who are making a change in their community.

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