A totally unique sanctuary for children with additional needs, their families and carers is going from strength to strength.
Olive Tree Cottage in Felpham aims to be an ‘all inclusive home-from-home’.
In fact it is someone’s home - just over three months ago Samantha and Robert Staniforth and their family opened up their house for anyone who needs it.
And they have quickly found that lots of people do!
I arrive one sunny afternoon and receive the waggiest of tailed welcomes from Rosie the therapy dog.
A scan across the garden reveals pockets of children playing together by a sandpit, making crafts or stroking rabbits on their laps.
It’s already clear that happiness emanates from every corner of this house.
Samantha greets me with a huge smile and gives me a tour.
“Today has been our busiest day,” she says. “Over there is our book-lending library, we have lots of things donated, second hand clothes, we have craft classes and one lady sells her cards for us, another makes jewellery.”
Samantha guides me around a table where kids are busy building Lego.
“If it looks like someone’s house that’s because it is, it’s ours and we’ve opened it up to everybody.
“When we close the doors that’s my lounge again and that’s my kitchen,” Samantha says, pointing to a space where a mother and her child are playing quietly together and then the kitchen area where three volunteers are making food and drinks.
“We’re all inclusive, that’s key to what we’re doing.”
Opening your house to complete strangers every day of the week might sound like madness, but Samantha explains why they’ve done it.
“We have four children and two of them have a disability.
“Milo, who’s ten, is on the autistic spectrum and Noah (seven) has cerebral palsy and often has to use a wheelchair.
“We ran out of space so we expanded our house, and afterwards we thought ‘this is great for our family, but there’s got to be others who could also benefit from this’.
“Having a child with autism made going anywhere almost impossible.
“Anything could trigger a melt-down, the noise, too many people, even a smell.
“So by the time we’d got anywhere we’d have to leave, and just having a coffee and drink was so expensive.
“I found when there was a melt-down people didn’t help and I felt judged.
“I’d come home really upset and feel embarrassed, something a mum should never feel about her children.”
Because it was such a struggle going out, Samatha decided they could stay right where they were, and invite others to join them.
“I thought other families must be going through the same thing.
“We opened thinking if we can help just one family it would be worth it, but it’s so much more than we could ever have hoped for.
“It shows there’s clearly a need for something like this in the Bognor area.”
Samantha is up until 10pm most nights baking cakes to sell.
Drinks are very inexpensive and the ‘Caring Coffee’ scheme means families in need are given food and drinks for free.
Milo, Noah, and their two brothers Fergus, 11, and Sol, three, all play an integral part in helping, and clearly enjoy sharing their wonderful space.
“All our customers are great, I get quite emotional when I think about how many people have helped us, we’ve made so many new friends.
There are ducks, guinea pigs and rabbits which are a major hit, as well as Rosie of course.
The whole house and garden is wheelchair-friendly and there are changing facilities for older children as well.
Samantha wants to develop the sensory hut so those in wheelchairs can enjoy it too.
Donate to their appeal by clicking here
With absolutely zero funding, she says running costs are tight, and she is bursting with new ideas to make Olive Tree Cottage even better for those who so clearly need it.
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