Mencap launches ‘Big Step Forward’ Appeal for £1.7 million

Brian Ambrose, appeal chair and chief executive of George Best City Airport, James Martin, a Mencap Young Ambassador, and Vanessa Elder, Mencap in Northern Ireland regional fundraising manager, pose with Eoghan Ryan and Imiani Frost, two children attending Segal House Nursery, at the launch of Mencap's Big Step Forward Appeal. (Photo by Aaron McCracken/Harrisons)

Brian Ambrose, appeal chair and chief executive of George Best City Airport, James Martin, a Mencap Young Ambassador, and Vanessa Elder, Mencap in Northern Ireland regional fundraising manager, pose with Eoghan Ryan and Imiani Frost, two children attending Segal House Nursery, at the launch of Mencap’s Big Step Forward Appeal. (Photo by Aaron McCracken/Harrisons)

Mencap has launched its ‘Big Step Forward’ Appeal yesterday (8 October) and has called on the public to join them in raising the £1.7 million needed to build, equip and run a new Children and Families’ Centre, which will provide children and young people with a learning disability with the right support and opportunities to flourish and achieve their potential.

At the heart of the new centre will be Mencap’s relocated Segal House nursery for 2 to 4 year-olds with a learning disability, autism and developmental delay, which will open on the site of the old Newtownbreda Primary School in January 2016.

Welcoming guests to the appeal launch at the MAC in Belfast, James Martin, a Mencap Young Ambassador who attended Segal House nursery in the 1990s, urged people to get behind the appeal:

“I remember going to Segal House and a lot of the fantastic staff, especially Audrey. Segal House helped me to speak and got my hands going, thanks to physio. I want more children to have what I had. Please support Mencap’s Big Step Forward appeal.”

Paschal McKeown, Mencap in Northern Ireland’s acting director explained the benefits of intervening early to improve the life chances of people with a learning disability:

“Our Children and Families’ Centre will provide the right support at the right time and offer children with a learning disability an inspiring place to flourish, learn and play. It will also provide families with the information and practical help they need.

“We have outgrown the Victorian building we currently use and need to move to a modern, flagship, purpose-built facility that people with a learning disability and their families need and deserve. This will allow us to support more children and young people.”

“Working alongside health, social care and other professionals involved in the life of each child and family, we will be able to deliver an integrated, holistic service under one roof. This will promote the development and independence of children and young people with a learning disability and their full inclusion in the life of their community. Today is an exciting day and very much about taking more big steps forward together with the children and families Mencap supports,”

Due to his personal experience of learning disability and a long standing connection with Mencap, Brian Ambrose, chief executive of George Best Belfast City Airport, was asked to chair the Big Step Forward Appeal and said:

“This is no small challenge. The new centre will cost £4.6 million to build, equip and run. We have already secured £3 million, which includes a fantastic £2.5 million capital funding from the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to purchase the site, leaving a funding gap of just under £1.7 million.

“Thanks to a number of generous donations, I am delighted to announce today that we already have £500,000 pledged towards our £1.7m target, so we have just over £1 million to raise to finish the job and make our vision a reality.

“On behalf of Mencap I would like to thank some of our early donors who showed their confidence in our vision for a better future for people with a learning disability, like Ulster Garden Villages, the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Fraser family, Ulster Rugby and Winemark; some of whom are here today.  But now we urgently need the help and support of the great Northern Ireland public to raise the rest. We will be rolling out some exciting and engaging fundraising initiatives in the months ahead to help encourage people to get involved,’’

Encouraging people to support the appeal, Oonagh McGowan spoke about her daughter Niamh’s experiences of Mencap’s nursery and what it also meant to her as a mother:

“Niamh’s time at Segal House was precious. For us, as parents, it was a very positive experience as there was an immediate connection.

“One of the many things I remember about Niamh’s time there was that, despite being so severely disabled and sensorally impaired by her blindness and deafness, the staff never defined her by her disabilities or limitations. Through touch, taste and smell the team found ways to help her to blossom.

“Before Segal House, Niamh didn’t really acknowledge me or Iggy as her mummy and daddy, but over time, with the love and care of her key workers they drew her out, and her response changed as Niamh’s personality shone through, and that was just priceless.”

To support Mencap’s Big Step Forward Appeal to build, equip and run their new Children and Families’ Centre see www.mencapbigstepforward.org or text MENCAP to 70660 to donate £3.

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