Dream becomes reality for Newport children’s centre

TWO decades of hard work which turned the dream into a reality were celebrated at the official opening of the Serennu Children’s Centre yesterday.

Almost 20 years to the day the idea was first floated, and eight years after an Argus-backed campaign was launched to raise the funds, the specialist centre for Gwent children with disabilities was launched by first minister Carwyn Jones.

Parents whose children attend the £10 million centre, which opened its doors in April, were there to join in the celebrations.

They were also there to help encourage people to keep supporting the unique centre, which still needs to raise £250,000 for equipment as well as donations to fund its upkeep.

The long-awaited moment was a poignant one for Ian Hennah, whose daughter Sophie helped launch the campaign in 2003, but sadly did not live long enough to benefit from the centre.

The father-of-six, 44, who has been a passionate supporter of the cause even after Sophie died in 2007 aged 11, admitted there were times he thought the idea would never come to fruition.

But he said it is thanks to people like the project’s main driver and chairwoman of trustees Dr Sabine Maguire, that children like his daughter, who was quadriplegic and suffered from cerebral palsy, epilepsy, blindness and curvature of the spine, will now get the help they so rightfully deserve.

He said: “It’s unbelievable, I had seen the plans and been involved with it since the early stages, but when you’re here it’s immense. If Sophie was still here the whole family would have benefited from it. It’s a more relaxed atmosphere and has much easier access.”

Other parents queuing up to sing the centre’s praises were Maria and Steve Jones, whose daughter Megan, nine, attends physiotherapy and hydrotherapy session to help with her mobility after brain surgery left her with acquired left side hemiplegia – a type of cerebral palsy.

The treatment helps the Millbrook Primary School pupil develop the use of her left side, which is reduced because of the condition.

Mrs Jones, 44, said the centre has become a place for the whole family, and is a huge step forward from the out dated facilities at Newport’s Eveswell Clinic which it replaced.

She said: “Eveswell staff were really great but the facilities were quite poor. This centre has made the world of difference. She’s definitely got stronger since coming here and enjoys life and things like dancing, swimming.”

Vanessa May, 48, said Serennu provides a warm welcome for her son Daniel who uses a wheelchair because he suffers with a complex a spinal condition.

She said it was a stark contrast to the cramped facilities at Eveswell and said the youngster looks forward to his appointments at Serennu.

She said: “It’s in pleasant surroundings and it’s not like a hospital, Daniel has no anxiety about coming here, some children who use hospitals build up a hatred of going but not here.”

13-year-old Toby Collins, is also among the 1,200 Gwent children who will benefit from the centre and his mum Lisa praised its setting and the leisure facilities including basketball court, sensory garden, at the High Cross site.

Mrs Collins, who also helps runs a parent support group at the centre with Mrs May, added: “It’s amazing that it’s all come together.”

Welcoming guests chairwoman of trustees Dr Maguire, praised all those involved in helping the unique centre become a reality.

She said: “I knew we could do it, this has been a very difficult journey. There were dark days when we thought we may not make it, personally I always thought we would make it because sometimes the very belief that you can to something is all you need. I look forward to the future.”

Unveiling a plaque to mark the opening first minister Carywn Jones said the centre brought together services that complement each other in a purpose built building with excellent equipment and facilities and highly skilled and dedicated staff.

He added: “I know you will continue to transform the way services are provided to children needing specialist medical care.”

The centre will host a free family fun day on September 17 from 11am to 3pm. Other upcoming fundraisers inlcude a white collar boxing event at Pill Millenium Centre, Newport, on September 23. For tickets from £15 telephone 07403 153649.

Run by Aneurin Bevan Health Board, the centre boasts physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, paediatrician-run services, and a base for Newport council’s children and disabilities team.

Specialist staff from the NHS, social services and the voluntary sector are on hand, and facilities include a hydrotherapy pool, a daily living suite that includes a kitchen, bathroom and bedroom to teach life skills, and a MediCinema.

There is also a gym, IT suite, play therapy rooms and meeting rooms, and outside walks and a memorial garden are being created.

The Sparkle Appeal was initially set up to pay for the centre before Assembly funding was sought and, in 2008, secured, is an ongoing charity effort that now focuses on equipment provision and other costs associated with maintaining the centre as a state-of-the-art concern.


BACK in 1999, health chiefs met parents, doctors and therapists to discuss the idea of a purpose-built centre for children with disabilities and developmental difficulties.

The meeting, at the The Friars, Newport, was organised due to mounting concern about the suitability of buildings like Eveswell Clinic to cater for the diverse needs of hundreds of youngsters, in the city and beyond.

What emerged from that meeting was one unavoidable fact – that a new centre was likely to be a very long term aim.

Such a project was not deemed a priority from a capital funding point of view, in what were the very early days of the National Assembly for Wales, and in a period when the two-year-old Labour Government was still sticking to its Tory predecessor’s modest spending plans.

What also emerged however, was the kernel of an idea that was to develop into the South Gwent Children’s Foundation and the Argus-backed Sparkle Appeal, launched in late 2003 with the ambitious target of raising several millions of pounds to build the centre.

By then, a site had been identified, at High Cross, and secured as a gift through the owner Newbridge Estates. Raising the money required however, remained a daunting process, though to their continuing credit, hundreds of people organised and took part in fundraising events.

Meanwhile, the financial climate had improved and with capital funding for health projects being boosted, the prospects of significant backing from the Welsh Government improved.

It finally came in the form of a £5.9 million award in spring 2008, by which time the South Gwent Children’s Centre – now called the Serennu Centre – had been built but remained to be purchased and equipped.

Now that has been done, and future generations of disabled children, and those with developmental difficulties, and their families can benefit from the efforts over 12 years of countless people, by attending clinics at a state-of-the-art building.

The Sparkle Appeal meanwhile, is now focusing on providing more equipment and facilities for the centre. For details, visit www.sparkleappeal.org