A Watford-based children's charity celebrating its 15th anniversary has received a big birthday boost after being awarded grants worth £600,000 to help more families in the future.

Playskill has received a five-year grant totalling just under £500,00 from the National Lottery as well as a three-year grant for almost £100,000 from BBC Children in Need.

The grants will fund the charity’s specialist skills development playgroups for pre-school children with physical difficulty or delay.

The charity runs groups in Watford and Hemel Hempstead, supporting more than 50 Hertfordshire children and families each term.

The National Lottery Community Fund grant will also enable a number of new projects for the charity, including extending its support for parents of disabled children, as well as a new social media project for young people with physical difficulties to get work experience.

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The charity's founder and director Andrea Clarke, who started Playskill in 2006 in response to the needs of local children with physical difficulties, said: “We are absolutely thrilled that The National Lottery Community Fund and BBC Children in Need have awarded us these very generous grants to support our work over the coming years.

"This past year has shown us more than ever how incredibly important our work is, with demand for our services at an all-time high. This funding will help ensure our vital groups can continue and help us to expand to meet the demand from the local community.

"Our groups really are a lifeline to parents and children who are living with physical disabilities and its vital that we raise the funds to continue them. This funding will cover one third of our annual costs, with the rest still needing to be raised.”

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To mark its 15th anniversary, Playskill is launching a special awareness and fundraising campaign in the community, to help raise its profile and the additional money needed to support its work.

Niki Michael, head of fundraising at Playskill, said: “We are appealing to Watford businesses, places of worship, community groups and individuals to get involved in our work, from placing a collection tin in a shop, to fundraising for us with a challenge event, or simply making a regular donation. We would really value the support of the local community to help continue our vital work now and into the future.”

To donate, or to find out how you can get involved, visit www.playskill.org

Playskill is the only charity in Hertfordshire providing free expert support from a paediatric physiotherapist, occupational therapist and speech and language therapist in a group play session for pre-school children aged one to five who have physical disabilities or delay.

Each group sessions use play as a tool for development - while the children are having fun, they are also learning to stand, eat, communicate and walk.

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The charity has adapted and innovated over the past 14 months, running a new remote model of working during lockdowns, with therapists delivering play therapy via video conferencing, and when restrictions permitted, delivering a hybrid model with a blend of remote and individual face-to-face sessions.

The charity and families were pleased to return to face-to-face group work this month, for their summer term.

Andrea said: “It’s such a splendid 15th anniversary gift to be able to do face-to-face work again. We are so delighted to be back seeing our beautiful children again in groups, even if they are more restricted in nature to be Covid-19 secure.

"It is just such a relief to know that with our National Lottery Community Fund grant over five years we have secured some stable funding for some of our Watford and Hemel groups, and now to have secured funding towards our Garston group with BBC Children in Need over three years, means we feel much more confident to help more families in the future.”