WHEN Lynn Westerman Holt and her family attended a fun day on a Yorkshire farm six years ago it was an event that changed their lives.
As a mother of three young children, including a six year old son with autism, she previously found it almost impossible to find days out that would suit all of them.
“When you have a child who doesn’t access things like other children and is prone to running off it’s very difficult and it was hard to take all three of them out together,” she said.
Autism Angels, which ran the family fun day at its base in Kearby, between Leeds and Harrogate, uses horses as therapy for children with autism.
Mrs Westerman Holt said her son, Alexander, was too frightened to go near the horses at first but volunteers tapped into his love of art and asked him to use paints to draw directly onto the horse.
By using his best skill to put him at ease, the volunteers enabled Alexander to grow in confidence and by the end of the day he was parading a horse around the arena.
Mrs Westerman Holt was so impressed with the organisation she began volunteering herself and is now part of a team which runs the site.
She supported the idea to turn Autism Angels into a charity and is now driving its ambitious plans for growth.
The Yorkshire Post is proud to support Autism Angels at this year’s Excellence in Business Awards being held in November.
Guests will hear the powerful story behind the organisation, which started over a decade ago when founder and horse whisperer Sarah Craven created a series of concepts from the work she had been doing with the horses to help children with emotional, behavioural and social difficulties.
The charity aims to provide parents and children with a place where they feel welcomed and accepted and find support and guidance during what can be a lonely and highly stressful time.
The charity has two centres. The second site is based near Hitchin in Hertfordshire.
As well as family fun days, Autism Angels runs mentoring programmes for children with autism, parents and professionals to empower families and illicit change in their lives. It also supports siblings and Mrs Westerman Holt goes into schools and businesses to spread understanding and acceptance of autism.
The charity’s growth plans include its Big Build for the north centre, in partnership with children’s charity Variety, to create a regional centre of excellence for autism.
The project will improve its Yorkshire site to create indoor space, kitchen and dining space, a sensory garden plus break-out sones and learning areas throughout the whole site, which maximise being in nature with animals and reap the benefits of being outside as much as possible.
“It will give children the ability to acquire independent life skills and expand their learning,” said Mrs Westerman Holt.
Eventually, Autism Angels wants to create centres outside every major city in the UK.
Mark Casci, business editor at The Yorkshire Post, said: “Autism Angels is a truly wonderful charity which does incredible work. I could not be prouder that we are backing them this year and hope we can raise a substantial amount of cash for them.”