LYN is a volunteer who helps children to make memories. Sue Bradley finds out how she has made a huge difference to the lives of Ellis Barrett and his family.

ELLIS Barrett’s cheeky smile is enough to brighten the gloomiest day, but five months ago it’s a sight his mum Lisa thought she’d never see again.

Back then the 11-year-old was withdrawn, lethargic and unable to communicate with strangers due to his anxiety over his mum’s poor health.

He struggled with her frequent hospital admissions and, while Lisa always tried to put a brave face on things, he wasn’t fooled.

“Ellis once told somebody that ‘my mummy always smiles but you can see the pain in her eyes’,” says Lisa, who suffers from a rare condition called Fowler’s Syndrome, along with fibromyalgia.

“I have three children and they’ve been pulled from pillar to post when I’ve been admitted to hospital with things like kidney infections and sepsis.

“While Ellis’s older brother and younger sister have coped well with everything, Ellis became very anxious and stressed.

“He was taking everything to heart.

“I never thought I would see my son smile again as he was so down and withdrawn.”

Five months ago Ellis’s world started to become a different place when he was introduced to Lyn, a volunteer mentor from the Swindon-based charity Memory Makers.

She visits the family home every fortnight and takes Ellis out for two or three hours.

Some days they go pitch and putting, or golfing, while on others they go to a field and play cricket; and all the while Ellis is building up positive memories of special days when the focus is entirely on him.

At the same time he’s encouraged to feel that he can share his concerns with Lyn, who has already helped boost his confidence over moving up to Isambard School.

“I don’t get overly fed up that I cannot do things with my mum but it makes me feel sad,” says Ellis. “She’s in hospital quite a lot.

“I go out with Lyn and I really look forward to it. She’s my friend.

“I tell her how much I enjoy my days out with her and she says ‘thank you, I enjoy my days out with you too’.

“Lyn is good fun and she tells a lot of jokes – I think she knows 500 million jokes.

“If there is one thing I could say to Lyn, it would be thank you. I hope she’ll always be a part of my life. She’s fun.”

Lisa, dad Paul, a ground worker, and their other children Kayden,13, and eight-year-old Ruby have noticed a big change in Ellis.

He’s now much more outgoing and cheerful and connects with people in a way he never did before.

“I used to feel very nervous but Lyn makes me feel more confident; she’s magic,” says Ellis, who was referred to Memory Makers by a local children’s service.

Lisa’s illness developed around 10 years ago and eventually forced her to give up working as a carer.

Fowler’s Syndrome, an illness so rare that she believes she’s the only person in Wiltshire to have it, affects her bladder and has made it necessary for her to wear a catheter, which means activities such as swimming and general rough and tumble with her children are out of the question.

At the same time the fibromyalgia causes her constant pain and leaves her unable to sleep for many days at a time – sometimes up to 28 – after which she experiences severe ‘crashes’ that leave her unable to do anything.

Despite all of this she keeps herself busy with cleaning, cooking meals, helping with homework and maintaining a Facebook page for Fowler’s Syndrome sufferers.

“When I’m good, I’m good, and when I’m bad, I’m bad,” she says. “I have to take morphine and diazepam, although I don’t during the day so that I’m alert for the kids, and I don’t drive because of my medications.

“At first I wouldn’t leave the house – it did bother me to begin with but I have to get on with things for my kids.

“I often feel cranky but I try not to let it affect me; I always try to have a smile on my face.”

At first Lisa and Paul were unsure when they were told about Memory Makers and almost didn’t take the opportunity for Ellis to be involved.

“I remember thinking that I didn’t want an outsider coming in,” Lisa admits.

“I was concerned that this lady was going to be questioning Ellis.

“We did have a period when we were going to say no.”

Now, however, they’re glad they invited Lyn into Ellis’s life.

“Lyn has turned Ellis around; she’s an undercover superwoman,” says Lisa.

“Ellis doesn’t communicate easily and at first it was a struggle, but with Lyn’s knowledge and perseverance they have now become the best of friends.

“It’s not about her taking him out and treating him: very often it’s something as simple as putting his cricket stuff in the back of the car and going to a field to play.

“I’ve seen such a huge improvement in him and was so proud when he told me he wanted to give £20 of his pocket money to Memory Makers to have the same support as he has.

“Lyn is kind-hearted and selfless and I know she is the sort of person who doesn’t like being paid compliments, but like Ellis, I want to say thank you: thank you for giving my son his smile back.”

A team of undercover superheroes

Ellis Barrett is one of more than 40 children aged between nine and 12 that have been helped by Lyn, who has been a volunteer with Memory Makers since it started three years ago.

Lyn actually started the charity with her friend Hilary, with whom she shared a background in working with children.

“They both felt that childhood memories are key to developing well-rounded adults,” explains the project manager for Memory Makers, Clare Armagan.

“Most of us take happy childhood memories but for many children, growing up can be a time of stress and instability. For them, creating positive memories with an independent, trusted adult can make a huge difference.

“The volunteers take children out for two or three hours to share some simple fun activities and the focus to be on the child. We don’t work with families per se, although the effect we have on the children has a positive impact on families too.

“We’re usually helping up to 20 children from Swindon and the surrounding villages and there’s a waiting list.

“All our volunteers are the most wonderful, giving people. Lyn is a very special lady, very enthusiastic and caring and really wants to make a difference to children. Right from the start she and Ellis really hit it off.”

Memory Makers’ trained volunteers are governed by strict rules and are police checked through the Disclosure Barring Service. They don’t give their surnames or any personal details to families.

Memory Makers, which is based at the Pine Trees Community Centre in Pinehurst, is receiving money from The National Lottery and Children in Need but is always looking for more sustainable avenues of funding, such as donations or fundraising initiatives.

To make a donation, go online to the charity’s Just Giving site at http: or send a cheque payable to SMASH Youth Project and post it to Memory Makers at SMASH, Pinetrees Community Centre, The Circle, Pinehurst, Swindon, SN2 1QR. The charity is always pleased to hear from would-be volunteers from all walks of life. Contact Clare for an informal chat on 01793 729748 or send an email to: