Skylarks is an independent Richmond-upon-Thames based charity that provides activities and therapies for children with disabilities and additional needs. It also supports and provides therapies, courses and information for their whole families.
As part of the charity’s exciting growth plans, it is currently recruiting for a trustee treasurer with solid accountancy experience to provide strategic direction on how it invests its income. We spoke to Jennifer Peters, chair, Skylarks, to find out more.
Jennifer, tell me more about Skylarks and the work you do
Founded 13 years ago by Anne-Marie Asgari in collaboration with a group of parent volunteers, we provide a supportive and active community for children with disabilities and additional needs. Every child and young person deserves to have equal opportunities and a place where they belong. We provide a safe space where those with additional needs can come and just enjoy being themselves, and we strive to remove the isolation that can happen for those children and their families. We now support over 600 families and the list is growing, so we wish to expand to meet rising demand.
What does the trustee treasurer role involve?
We’re looking for a volunteer trustee treasurer to join the board and provide strategic direction on how we invest our income, which is now approaching a very healthy £250,000. We need someone with the financial lens to monitor our revenue levels and grants from an accounting perspective, so you will ideally be a professional accountant or work in a finance team in your day job.
You may already love working in the charity sector and know the mechanics behind the financials for not-for-profit, but charity experience is not a prerequisite as it’s your professional accountancy experience that counts, along with the bandwidth and vision to take us to our next level of growth. It’s a great opportunity for someone who wants to gain experience of strategy and leadership and boost your professional development and CV, while learning from others.
What exciting initiatives are you working on?
As part of our three-year plan, we’re partnering with two other charities - Marble Hill Playcentres and The Otakar Kraus Music Trust (OKMT) - on a £3 million redevelopment project to create a safe, inclusive and accessible space for indoor and outdoor play. It will harness the power of play and the magic of community and be sustainable and harmonious within the heritage and beauty of Marble Hill Park. We have strong support locally, including Richmond Council, local MPs, and many local SEND charities, and will be applying for planning permission next month. The treasurer will input into how we divest funds into this project, how the partnership takes shape and how it allows for our future growth.
We’re also looking to invest in a programme designed to prepare pre-teens for the world of work. The workplace environment today is not built for people on the autistic spectrum and those who do work tend to struggle with working life. We’re exploring partnerships whereby we can support our young people with their career preparation, as well as create and educate their employers on how to support these young people in their workplace.
How did you stumble across Skylarks?
I first stumbled across Skylarks (then MeToo&Co) via an online search, after a long struggle to find suitable support for my autistic daughter. Our first signs had appeared when she was around two years old and wasn’t hitting her speech milestones. However, we initially put this down to being bilingual, as we were living in Spain at the time. When we moved back to London in 2013 we enrolled her in a bilingual English / Spanish nursery and it slowly became apparent that she definitely wasn’t speaking as expected. We felt as though the rug had been pulled out from beneath us having thought we had a happy, healthy baby girl, to suddenly being faced with the question "Do you know about autism?" It wasn’t talked about as much then as it is now, and I was shocked by the lack of funding and support.
Skylarks Makaton sing and sing
What makes Skylarks a special place to work for you?
The fact that I volunteer 20-25 hours a week out of choice speaks volumes about the reward and fulfillment I get from the impact we’re making to a child’s life, to empower them and their parents to be the best they can be. As parents, we have strong ambitions for our children along with worries about whether they will get a job and be independent when they’re older, but we have to manage our expectations. Parents are often surprised at how character-building Skylarks can be in that regard. You learn not to sweat the small stuff and accept you’re not going to totally fix the problem. For me, it’s about allowing my daughter to be the best she can be and for that to be enough of an achievement.
How would you describe the team culture?
We’re a diverse group from different professional and demographic backgrounds, with most of us having been impacted by additional needs in some way, or at least have a curiosity to learn about it and generally have a natural passion around humanity.
We have six part-time employees who support the areas of operations, marketing and fundraising. The board consists of myself as the chair, the CEO and nine other trustees. We meet every other month and most of us get quite involved in fundraising alongside our committee responsibilities, with events such as selling cakes at fayres and our recent cycle ride to Amsterdam, as well as developing corporate partnerships. However, the treasurer will be mostly focused on forecasting, budgeting and the annual reporting process.
What’s your vision for the future?
We want every child in the area with additional needs to be aware of and use Skylarks. We want every GP surgery to have a poster up about us. We’re based in Richmond-upon-Thames, but have an open door policy. Anyone, from anywhere, is welcome! We support families at every stage of the journey and we understand that the road to diagnosis can be a long and painful one. Research shows that early intervention can have an amazing output, so we want to help these families sooner rather than later instead of having to wait the typical 12-18 months for a GP referral.
Sum up what it's like to work at Skylarks
We’re a small charity so we can be quite nimble and turn ideas into reality quickly. Getting feedback from parents is important to us to obtain these ideas which have led to karate, drama, yoga and music therapy being among the services we offer so far. We’re super deep in the community and we work with the best of the best - for example, we work with the best yoga guru for special needs. As far as I know, there’s no other charity like us in the UK supporting children and parents/carers at the same time, under one roof.