ON THE GROUND: The Squad

Scheme: Youth club for young people with learning disabilities

Funding: Receives about £38,000 a year. Approximately £9,000 comes from Merton Youth Services, a further £15,000 from grant-making trusts and £15,000 is raised by volunteers

Objectives: To provide activities and support for young people with learning disabilities

"It's a place where young people with learning disabilities can come to make friends and be part of the community," says Tessa Oram, club leader at the The Squad.

The youth club meets once a week and runs activities ranging from glass painting to bowling for young people with learning disabilities. It currently has about 38 members and 30 volunteers. "The high ratio of volunteers to members means we can run a whole range of activities every week," says Oram.

Meetings take place in Wimbledon, south London, where a number of the members and volunteers live. Oram feels it is important for those who come along to feel part of the community, so the group often takes part in local activities.

It also runs weekend trips and last year took a group of 42 members and volunteers on a trip to Disneyland Paris by Eurostar. "Many of the young people had never left London before," says Oram.

The Squad was set up 10 years ago by Oram who was a special needs teacher at the time and realised there was a need for additional support in the area. It will be celebrating its 10th anniversary this summer with a series of events culminating in a party in the park.

Over the past decade, The Squad has relied heavily on volunteers and Oram remains its only paid member of staff. "It's a vibrant group of members and volunteers, the relationship between them is key," she says. "Right from the beginning we wanted to get away from the idea of volunteers doing things for members."

Although the organisation is run as a youth group, it also tries to provide more general support for members. The age range is from 18-25 but Oram and the volunteers also run a group for the 18-30 age group which meets in a pub once a month.

Merton Youth Services in south London pays Oram's salary and her hours vary every year according to the funding given. The club also relies on grants from trusts and the fundraising activities of volunteers. Members pay £2 a week to attend the club, but Oram adds "we make sure that money isn't a bar".

The group is in the process of applying for funding to expand the idea into other boroughs in south London. "We want to take the essence of what makes The Squad successful and move it into other areas," says Oram.

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