THE Sense Scotland charity is holding an open day at its Ardlui House respite centre in Helensburgh on Tuesday, June 25.

Ahead of the event, we take a look behind the scenes at the facility – and meet some of the people who have benefited from its help.

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They say there’s no place like home. But for many families with disabled children, there actually is a place just like home...and it’s right here in Helensburgh.

Ardlui House, on Charlotte Street, provides short breaks for children aged from birth to 24 years old.

Run by the charity Sense Scotland, it’s proved vital for children and young people seeking a short holiday – as well as their carers who may need a break.

Kirsteen Binnie is testament to that. Her 16-year-old son Matthew was born with a chromosomal abnormality, meaning he has no speech and has other support needs.

“I remember the day we came to see Ardlui House,” says the Oban woman.

“Within five minutes I felt totally comfortable about leaving Matthew there.

“I knew he’d be happy and safe. It was just like home.

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For Kirsteen, leaving Matthew overnight in someone else’s care was a massive step.

She explains: “It was hard to say we needed respite. You feel like you’re saying you can’t cope, but it’s not about that. It’s about doing something before you reach crisis point and actually, about being able to sustain your role as a carer.”

The bungalow has five bedrooms, a sensory play area, communal kitchen and living areas and a fully accessible enclosed garden.

More importantly it has experienced care and support round the clock.

And its location makes it perfect for a range of activities, whether young people are looking for an active holiday or some chill out time.

The Tower Cinema, the coffee shops, the beach and marina are all places to explore, as are the shores of Loch Lomond and other attractions on the doorstep.

“Staff are great at tailoring activities – now that he’s older he’s tackling things like laserquest and he’s made a good friend through Ardlui too,” adds Kirsteen.

“Matthew's disability can make him quite isolated socially so I love the fact he has a holiday pal. We try and co-ordinate their time at Ardlui House and they keep in touch.”

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Keeping a connection with families is vital and staff support young people to Facetime their families and send snaps of them taking part in holiday activities.

Kirsteen says: “When Matthew goes on a break there’s a weight off my shoulders, that’s when you realise how much pressure you’ve been under.

“It gives us time with our other son. The difference that’s made to us as a family has been immense.

"It’s an understatement to say that without Ardlui we would find it difficult to sustain things.”

It’s a sentiment Korin Gilhespie can identify with. Her daughter Kirsty has Ohtahara Syndrome, the same genetic condition as former Prime Minister David Cameron’s son Ivan.

The nine-year-old requires round-the-clock care and is on constant medication to manage epileptic seizures.

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“When she was born we were told that she wouldn’t survive,” says Korin. “And now she’s nine. She is like a newborn, and requires that amount of attention, but she’s also happy.

“Kirsty can’t take part mentally or physically, but at Ardlui House she gets included in everything.

"They give you a daily update on what they’ve been up to with her and there have been times I’ve been astounded. She’s been to the cinema, she’s been out looking for pumpkins at Hallowe’en.”

Korin and husband Andrew have two other children - Heather, 11, and seven-year-old Harris - and respite has allowed the family to relax and do things together.

“People don’t understand how difficult it is to do things as a family when you have a child in that situation,” she says.

“Kirsty is on the same routine every day – meds, milk, bed. To be able to go to the cinema, to go cycling, to break that routine is like a holiday. It means you can focus on the other two kids totally and utterly.

“Last year we were able to go to Tenerife for a week. You have to be able to really trust to go abroad.

“If I can encourage others to use the service I would. I understand that people don’t want to leave the responsibility to others but Sense Scotland are so responsible with everything, the staff are all great.”

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Building trust with families is, says manager Annmarie Carson, one of the most important aspects of spending time spent at Ardlui House.

“They may never have left their child with anyone else, so we try to alleviate their concerns,” she explains. “We work together with schools, health and social work to form the child’s plan and to ensure our part of that plan. There may be a specific thing they want to do, which they don’t do any other time – for example we have one lad who we take swimming, because his mum is unable to take him.”

But it’s not all about being active either.

“Sometimes the young people just want to come and relax! That’s fine too, there are plenty of opportunities and areas in the house for some chill time.

“Every family is different. We support children and young people with a diverse range of needs – some are very independent and come along to make friends or be really active, others have complex health and/or behavioural needs and require a relaxing break.”

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Having worked at Ardlui since 2011, Annmarie is taking up a different challenge within Sense Scotland, but she has words of encouragement for anyone thinking of applying for her role.

“This job has lots of variety and flexibility is key. There’s an on call service and cover at weekends.

"But for me it’s about being creative and coming up with solutions, supporting a great staff team, working with families and helping young people reach their full potential.

“The nice thing is that I’ve known some of the people we support and their families from a very young age and it’s great to see them grow into adulthood within our services.

"That’s one of the best aspects of the job.”