Here at The Yard, we view ourselves very much as a family - a community of young people, their parents, grandparents, carers and siblings.

But what really makes The Yard work is our team – the people who welcome you when you come through the door, who get to know your child and what makes them tick, and who you confide in when you’re having a bad day.

One of our most familiar faces in Edinburgh is Darcie Hamilton, Play Team Leader.

Darcie moved to Edinburgh five years ago after completing a Masters in Child and Young People’s Mental Health. Having worked with children for 11 years and with The Yard for just over two, she believes diversity makes The Yard extra special.

“I joined The Yard from a local nursery, so going from babies and toddlers to young people up to the age of 25 was a huge change. All of the experience I have gained in my career so far, including my degree, is helpful here - but what really works is the combination of our different life experiences and skills. That’s what makes The Yard what it is, and why it’s so valuable to each and every family we support, regardless of their child’s age or the challenges they face. This is absolutely the most rewarding job you could get – watching the young people grow in confidence and their families relax, often for the first time in years, is quite staggering.

“Everything we do depends on the child’s interests – if there’s something they really want to do, we’ll do our best to cater for that. For example, we recently made movies; we had a director, make-up artist and screened the films on the huge television in the art room. It was so rewarding – where else would they have that opportunity? Others love to cook, climb trees or just make lots of noise – we even had a band in recently, and a ceilidh night. We are very much led by the young people and their feedback. It’s all about what they get out of it – that’s the end product, the goal. After all, we don’t know their diagnosis when they come in – we take them on face value, learning their strategies and their interests, and work with that.”

Of course, as well as fun, The Yard creates lifelong friendships and connections, both within and outwith the family.

“A lot of our young people struggle with outer world normality – they find a trustee in us, seeing us not as teachers but friends. Teenagers might be struggling with their emotions, their friendships and just need someone to vent to but we always have their best interests at heart - there’s no judgement. Whatever they want to be is who they are, and the confidence they gain here really helps them in everyday life – they realise they CAN! We often hear teachers say ‘They’ve never done that at school!’ Similarly, parents make lifelong friendships here. They often come in looking for acceptance and understanding from others, and they find that here, and much more.”

Working alongside Darcie is Helen Bonnar, Senior Playworker, who splits her time between The Yard Edinburgh and Fife. With her background also in childcare, Helen joined The Yard just over two years ago, having previously worked at an after-school club for 11 years.

Helen said, “I was looking for a change, a new path and having recently gained my PDA Level 9 in Childhood Practice, I was absolutely delighted when I got the job at The Yard. I’d heard so much about the service and had been there for training so securing the job was a bit of a dream come true - definitely the best thing I’ve ever done!”

A self-confessed ‘cheerleader’ for The Yard, which has been open in Kirkcaldy since 2016, Helen is keen to spread the word about the Fife service.

“We hear the same story again and again – once families become involved with The Yard, their lives change and improve, and most wish they had come along earlier. There are so many more families out there who would benefit from our support. Let’s face it, every child has the right to play yet some barriers still remain, even in 2020. The amazing thing about The Yard is that these barriers are taken away, the children are able to play, everyone gets involved, and we watch families relax and bond in a way that they couldn’t before.”

Despite being closed to members in general in line with Government regulations, the play didn’t stop during lockdown. The Yard has continued to support families, creating online sessions showcasing everything from play ideas, music and movement, and signed stories to wellbeing sessions. 

“The Yard plays such an important role in the lives of our families so we were determined to keep that support going when we had to close. We’ve been busy creating lots of digital resources centred around activities families can do at home with everyday items. To see photos and videos of families getting involved in everything from potion-making to creating a puppet theatre has been fantastic. We’re always here at the end of the phone for support, ideas or just a chat on these challenging days, and we can’t wait to see everyone again in person soon.” 

Disabled children and their families often feel lonely, due to their unique circumstances, greater social isolation and higher rates of children being out of school. The shared experience of lockdown has helped all of us understand how this feels more than ever. We are working hard to continue supporting children and families, and to continue to be here for our families in the future. Building communities is at the heart of what we do. To support us to do this, please consider making a gift today. Thank you.