A KIND-HEARTED mum from Rodbourne Cheney set up two charities to create fun social events for people with learning disabilities and special needs.

Sarah Purnell’s daughter Caroline inspired her to set up Koalas Opportunity Group more than 30 years ago to create a place where parents of children with learning disabilities could meet up while their youngsters played.

After the first decade with the charity, the 61-year-old returned to work as a part-time district nurse and set up a second charity ten years after that, the Swindon Interactive Arts Service, to give adults with similar conditions a place to socialise and get creative with arts and crafts, music and drama.

Sarah said: “Eight years ago, I noticed that there was not a lot of opportunities in the community for my 34-year-old daughter, so I thought I’d do something about that.

“When she was three, I set up Koalas because as well as giving her a place to make friends, it a lifeline for the parents who can help support each other because raising children like ours who need round-the-clock care can be very lonely and frustrating, but also delightful.

“Caroline really enjoys the sessions with SIAS, especially cooking and doing puzzles. We do all sorts of different activities and many of our members have been there from the beginning so it's nice that they can meet up once a week and socialise with their friends, they all enjoy participating.

"Our annual Christmas production last year was seen by 150 people - our members love doing drama, they don't get stage fright because they're very uninhibited."

Koalas is still going strong, overseen by another mum who helped found it, and the SIAS has run for eight years with a small but dedicated group of members.

However, Sarah's second charity is currently running at a loss of £50 per week as she's struggling to recruit enough members and fundraisers to keep it financially viable.

She added: "I'd like SIAS to keep going for as long as Koalas has, I'm really pleased that it's been so successful. Up until this year we actually had a waiting list of people for the SIAS group, but now we're five or six members short, which isn't many but it makes a big difference.

"This is a very small charity and our biggest expenditure is employing two people to run the workshops. I'd like to expand it to two days of activities a week but that's impossible at the moment.

Anyone interested in joining the group or volunteering to help organise and fundraise it should call Sarah on 01793 614262, email Jo Fox on jofox7@sky.com, or visit swias.org.uk