Working remotely has presented all types of tests but imagine using the medium of technology to try and teach a young child to learn how to walk or talk.

Those are among the challenges a Watford charity had to contend with but the organisation’s founder now believes it is in a stronger position than before the coronavirus pandemic thanks to the way it has adapted and innovated over the past 12 months.

Playskill helps pre-school children with physical needs or developmental delay through group play therapy, but when the first lockdown began it had to perform what founder and director Andrea Clarke MBE described as a “somersault in terms of our provision”.

With around 90 per cent of the children it helped being classed in a shielding category, Playskill developed a new remote model of working, initially through Zoom and then Microsoft Teams.

This was “very challenging” because staff were unable to work together and the children could not be in groups, but this model has enabled Playskill to help more children and families in the past 12 months than in any of the previous 14 years since it was established.

A child using the walking aid

A child using the walking aid

Andrea said: “We are really proud of that and we’ve had some amazing successes. Children have been taught how to walk by remote guidance from physiotherapists, we’ve taught children how to communicate their wishes, say their first words, do all sorts of things that we never thought was possible through the medium of Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

“We’ve become a lot, lot better at coaching parents at a distance in terms of how to help their child and that has been really successful.

“What we’ve all missed desperately is the face-to-face contact and the emotional support that you can give one another when we’re together in a group, but nonetheless we are really proud of what has been achieved in the middle of the pandemic.”

Another success was the launch of the ‘Springboard’ project in November, enabling the charity to start working with families almost immediately and not have to endure the frustration of be on a waiting list first.

Andrea explained: “By being able to see the children remotely, we’ve been able to see them very quickly and start advice and assessments and give them some provision straight away. That’s the first time we’ve ever done anything like that.

“As an organisation we are stronger than we were pre-Covid because we have learnt to innovate and change things so well during the situation that we found ourselves in.

“I think we have learnt new ways of helping children from a number of different angles, some of which will continue to be with us I’m sure for the long term.”

One of the walking aids paid for through The Ganett Foundation grant

One of the walking aids paid for through The Ganett Foundation grant

Playskill also benefited with equipment bought through a grant from The Gannett Foundation, the charitable arm of the parent company of Newsquest, the owners of the Watford Observer.

This enabled the charity to buy two paediatric walking aids and a standing frame, to help children in taking their first steps. The grant also meant it could purchase two ipads, originally intended to be used within groups as part of the play therapy, but which proved invaluable during the pandemic when it switched to remote working.

They helped the delivery of remote sessions to children and families – one being used to help deliver online therapy while the other was used by parent support workers to effectively provide training and support sessions to assist parents and carers.

Since the equipment was delivered last summer, Playskill has been able to restart face-to-face sessions in line with government guidance, with staff wearing full PPE.

Playskill was founded by Andrea in 2006 as a response to the needs of children in Watford with physical difficulties, and in April it will mark its 15th anniversary.

With groups based in Watford and Hemel Hempstead, it welcomes interest from all surrounding areas from parents with children not achieving their physical milestones of walking, talking and sitting.

The charity will assess and give advice help as necessary from the ages of one to five. However, Andrea explained that minimum age is being lowered because remote working means they can now be assessed in their own homes, with appointments based around sleeping times.

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