The 'lifeline' children’s charity in crisis like ‘never before’

  • For the last nine months the charity Sparkle has overspent by £50,000 each month. It's as the needs for their services soar, but funding declines.

The bond between sisters can be something to behold - sometimes the best of friends, sometimes the fiercest of adversaries. But there is something very remarkable about two sisters we met this week.

In between the dancing, and the playing, seven-year-old Harper told me about what she is doing to help raise money for a charity that supports her younger sister, six-year-old Olivia.

The charity is called Sparkle, and it provides support to children from the Gwent area who have disabilities or complex needs. Olivia loves attending their activities, but the charity is in financial difficulties and needs to raise more money to meet their increasing demands.

So to that end, seven-year-old Harper is running five kilometres to raise money for the charity that helps "people in need."

I asked Olivia what she thought of this - her answer was "really proud."

Harper (left) is running five kilometres to raise money for the charity Sparkle, which has helped her younger sister Olivia. Credit: ITV Wales

Earlier in the day, we had spent an afternoon at the Serennu Children’s Centre in Newport, where a lot of Sparkle’s activities are based, to see why families describe it as such a lifeline.

We met Nicol Rogers. She first came across Sparkle when it provided activities for her son that she could not find anywhere else, describing it as a 'lifeline'.

We chatted at the bespoke cinema - where there are lots of facilities to suit children’s needs - from multiple spaces for wheelchairs to giving children the space they need to enjoy the film.

Nicol, who is also the Parent Representative at Sparkle, said: My son can come here and walk around,  eat crisps as loud as he wants, there’s children dancing… it’s a place where no one judges you, and you get to watch a film like anybody else.

She said she tried to go to other cinemas in the past, but it just did not work.

Nicol, who is a parent representative at Sparkle, uses the service with her son. Credit: ITV Wales

Time and time again, parents said Sparkle was the only service that had the activities (wrap-around care, social clubs, swimming sessions etc.)  with the expertise and the set-up, to make sure their children could enjoy themselves safely.

Dr Sabine Maguire, a trustee, has been with the charity for 25 years. In that time she said she has never known a crisis like the one they face now - and that includes getting through the pandemic.

Every week, two hundred children access their activities, whilst they support around a thousand parents and carers through their family liaison services.

Each month brings in fifteen new referrals, but the mounting needs and mounting increases in costs (staffing, equipment, insurance etc), coupled with the fall in grants means the financial situation is becoming untenable.

For the last nine months, they have overspent by £50,000 every month.

Dr Sabine Maguire, a trustee at Sparkle, said the financial situation is unsustainable. Credit: ITV Wales

Dr Maguire said: “I have never known the demand to be so high. The needs of our children are higher than they have ever been…I’ve never seen the income go down at this level. We need to bring in £750,000 a year to stand still, we literally brought in half that last year.”

She added that from a purely financial perspective, the services they offer help families cope and reduce the potential of a child going into residential care, which could cost £300,000 a year.

She's now calling on the Welsh Government to recognise their service as "essential."

In response to that, the Welsh Government has told ITV News that they recognise the importance of specialist support services and they’re committed to working with organisations to ensure "appropriate services are available for those who need them."

But they add the Government’s budget  “has not been increased to respond to increased costs."

The team at Sparkle are now reviewing their services to see what they can afford.

Back in Harper and Olivia’s lounge, I asked Olivia about her favourite things to do at Sparkle - her answer, no doubt popular among all six-year-olds - the parties.