A Ryedale charity which supports the families of children and young people with disabilities has celebrated the official ground-breaking for its new state-of-the-art premises.

Officiating at the first dig for Ryedale Special Families’ (RSF) new home in Pickering was The Lord-Lieutenant of North Yorkshire, Jo Ropner, swapping her more usual formal attire for a yellow high-visibility waistcoat.

Almost five years to the day since RSF celebrated its first £100,000 milestone in a long fundraising campaign towards the much-needed new premises the first dig took place at the new Mrs Ropner congratulated the charity’s Trustees, staff and supporters for their efforts, through the Covid pandemic, to raise more than £1 million to date, and their ongoing efforts to reach the £1.4 million target.

The new purpose-built, fully-accessible centre in Pickering will feature five individual sensory or therapy rooms, a large room for group activities, a kitchen for cooking activities and promoting life skills, meeting rooms, accessible toilets including two Changing Places, an education and skills centre for disabled young adults, a large outdoor safe area with a specially-designed sensory garden, as well as ample accessible parking.

The new ‘centre of excellence’ will replace the current Ryedale Special Families base, a two-storey terraced house in Old Malton which is small and has difficult access for those with limited mobility. The current building has only two small activity rooms, no changing facilities for people with disabilities, no large space for social gatherings, and very limited parking.

Ryedale Special Families has supported local families since the early 1990s when the charity was formed by a handful of local parents. Since then the charity’s work has grown and they now provide a lifeline of support to over 400 Ryedale families with children or young people who have disabilities, additional needs or illness, by providing advice, guidance, flexible care and a wide range of social and family activities.

Chief Officer of Ryedale Special Families, Lisa Keenan said, “We have been dreaming of this day for many years, so to see the digger start work on our new site is beyond exciting, and means a great deal to our team and especially our families. The new centre will enable Ryedale Special Families to extend and develop its support for local families of disabled children, with space at last to offer a full range of activities and programmes.

“In our current home we can’t even install a stairlift as the stairs are too narrow, and access to the building is through a haulage yard, so it is far from ideal for young people with disabilities. The move to our new home can’t come soon enough!” says Mrs Keenan.

“We still have a long way to go to reach our final target, so our supporters are continuing their fundraising efforts, and we are continuing to reach out to businesses and foundations across Yorkshire. We welcome contributions large and small, financial and in kind, and can be contacted on 01653 699000,” says Mrs Keenan.

The new centre has been made possible with a combination of RSF’s own fundraising activities, community fundraising, generous donations and substantial grants from trusts including St Martin’s School Trust, St James Place Charitable Foundation, The Wilfred Jackson Will Trust, The Opportunity Holiday Trust, Pickering Town Council and the Yorkshire Charity Clay Days which has made substantial donations from its own fundraising event for several years.

The architect of Ryedale Special Families’ new premises is himself an RSF parent - Tony Harrison of Design 4 architecture, with local firm R & J Construction Ltd building the centre.