One of the town’s greatest assets for disabled young people, Clearly Speaking, have had their toughest year yet. “These last twelve months have been the worst, it’s been the hardest year and I've been doing this for over two decades now.” explains Janet Nicks, the charities project director and founder.
“This year it's been really disheartening because the routes I used to use, to go in and say this family really needs help, they just don’t work anymore.
The Buckingham charity, who support children and young adults affected by Autistic Spectrum Disorder by helping them access government assistance, have not found 2017 to be difficult because the community do not find them useful, but rather because the fight against government cuts has grown increasingly fierce.
By starting new clubs for knitters, special groups for girls with autism, opening board game cafes, expanding the dungeons and dragons society, running regular soup kitchens, providing unbending 24 hour support for families dealing with the complex disabilities and so much more - Clearly Speaking clearly provide a lifeline for countless people.
Janet continues: “The problem is it’s getting harder and harder to access government assistance.
“The criteria for accessing funds, such as the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP), have hugely changed but its not been made well known that that's happened.
“We’ve gone backwards as a country. A lot of claims have been made about prioritising mental health, but the government aren't. There’s such a shortage of psychologists that have a specialism with working with autism, especially high functioning autism.
“A lot of the time, their mental health can be incredibly poor, and things can deteriorate whilst sitting on a waiting list. We have lots of young people and parents that say they are desperate for help; we see cases where young people try and take their own life.
Janet spends her time helping families fight for what they need to get by - and the charity have always been able to make thing better.
“We’ve been really successful this year in doing just that: we’ve won all but one case, a case which still made progress
“It means that we've made a big difference for individuals, and families who felt really downbeat, that thought they weren't going to get anything to help them, are now in a bit of a better position financially.”
Although a lot of the charity’s time is spent battling the Department of Work and Pensions to help disabled families get what they need, the Clearly Speaking building, located at the end of Buckingham Youth Centre, always provides safety and comfort for those in need.
Open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and with a 24 hour answering machine, the building provides a special kind of comfort for autistic people, with room to pace and fidget toys to occupy busy hands and make sure support can be given in an appropriate way.
Clearly Speaking do all of their work with a handful of dedicated volunteers, and in defiance of Janet’s personal disabilities.
This week, we’re running a campaign to help raise awareness of the good work that Clearly Speaking do, in the hope that members of Buckingham’s community can guarantee the charity see this year off with a much-deserved celebration.
So how can you help?
Clearly Speaking are holding an end of year ‘Mad Hatters Tea Party’ on December 23, at 1:30pm.
The group will transform Buckingham Youth Centre into the court of the queen of the hearts, complete with plain roses decorating the walls, which the young people will need to paint.
Janet said: “There are still pockets of the community we’re finding it hard to engage with it, so we've chose a wonderland theme that everyone can engage with.
“everything will be magical and fun, we’re fortunate to have had a snow machine donated for the day, and there’ll be scenery, games, and hopefully some elaborate cakes.
“Given the Alice in Wonderland theme, we’ll be organising some crazy golf, and we’re working to convert hockey sticks into flamingos.”
The afternoon is shaping up to be a fitting celebration for the charity but there are ways that the community can help make it even more special:
Are you a member of a local choir group that could donate half an hour of your time on the afternoon of December 23? Are you in a local performance group that could offer a reading from Alice in Wonderland?
Are you a budding baker willing to donate any sweet or savoury treats to make the tea party extra delicious? Do you have any old board games (with all the pieces) that you don’t mind donating?
Could you help Clearly Speaking in any of these ways? Please let us know, call reporter Ryan on 07393754671 anytime, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org, if you can offer anything to help the charity.
Alternatively, if you’d like to donate this Christmas, please head to www.clearlyspeaking.org.uk/donate