A History of P.E.S.T.S.

Don’t be put off by the name…..it’s nothing to do with Rentokil! P.E.S.T.S. stands for Parents of Ealing Self-Help Training Scheme.

P.E.S.T.S. started life on 15th September 1981 and was the brainchild of Sue Humphries, a very resourceful lady and parent of a disabled son.

In November 1980 Sue heard that a Portage scheme was being introduced in the Borough. This is a method using parents to teach and stimulate their children at home in a step by step fashion with the guidance of weekly visits by a trained advisor. Sue and other parents who wanted to be actively involved in their children’s development requested Portage and were disappointed to learn that the project was a pilot scheme and would be limited to a very few families . Realistically it would be some considerable time before the service was widely available and many children would miss out on this early stimulation programme.

Sue was therefore motivated to start a self-help group where parents could, with the help of professionals, develop individual programmes to use at home with their children to help them reach their potential. The parents also felt the need to meet together for mutual support and friendship, to exchange and gather information and to feel less isolated.

Sue organised a social gathering in July 1981 at Heller House where parents and interested professionals discussed the formation of P.E.S.T.S. Heller House was Ealing’s residential home for children with learning disabilities and at that time was undergoing a change of emphasis towards younger children. The Officer in Charge, with the blessing of Ealing’s Social Services Department, offered P.E.S.T.S. the use of Heller House with its playroom, equipment and commitment of several staff members on Tuesday mornings. Other professionals, including therapists and Ealing’s specialist health visitor, expressed willingness to contribute their skills to the group. Thus all the necessary components were in place to launch P.E.S.T.S. on 15th September 1981.

Initially the week by week organisation and staffing of P.E.S.T.S. was carried out by members of Heller House staff, 3 of whom were Portage trained. Inevitably there was staff turnover and shortages at Heller House and it was not possible for them to provide such an intensive level of support on a weekly basis so P.E.S.T.S. needed to look to other avenues for help.

A Parent Committee, led by Sue Humphries as Chairperson, was by now in place providing a firm organisational basis. In 1984, a decision was made to employ 2 play workers. Many local professionals, including the specialist health visitors, speech therapist, physiotherapist, voluntary sector workers and Portage Co-ordinator, were demonstrating their support by visiting on a regular basis. When Sue Humphries left the project in April 1985 she had good reason to be proud of her achievements.

In 1989 P.E.S.T.S. experienced difficulties when many of the key people involved in its organisation left. Also children were moving on from P.E.S.T.S. much earlier owing to the range of other services available to them (e.g. nursery centres, opportunity playgroups and earlier school entry). There was a real danger of P.E.S.T.S. having to close down.

It was decided that P.E.S.T.S. should try to get funding for a Project Co-ordinator to be responsible for the overall running of the group. With the help of Contact a Family Ealing and the Specialist Health Visitor, a successful application for funding was made to Capital Radio’s Help a London Child and the post was filled in September 1989. A new play leader, Portage trained, was also employed and a new Parents’ Committee elected. This new stability enabled P.E.S.T.S. to grow from strength to strength and membership grew rapidly resulting in increased running costs. P.E.S.T.S. was becoming a victim of its own success.

In November 1994 the Charity Commissioners approved our application for P.E.S.T.S. to become a registered Charity. This has enabled us to apply to Charitable Trusts for financial support.

In 1995 P.E.S.T.S. developed its services further by setting up our Outreach Project. This year also saw the publication of the first edition of P.E.S.T.S. information booklet ‘Special Needs’, a very useful resource for parents and caring professionals.

Perhaps our greatest achievement financially was securing 2 National Lottery grants for our Development Manager’s post, The first in 1997 and the second in 2000 , totalling 6 years’ funding. This included some office expenses and Social Services kindly offered suitable office space in Heller House’s Annexe. In January 2005 P.E.S.T.S. appointed a Project Manager made possible by 3 year funding by John Lyon’s Charity. The post is currently financed by City Bridge Trust.

In 2007, when Councillor Michael Elliot was Mayor of Ealing, he chose P.E.S.T.S. as one of his Charities and raised £6,250 which enabled us to run additional play sessions. These have proved so popular with families that we now run regular play sessions at Heller House on Tuesday and Friday mornings during term time. Like Sue Humphries all those years ago P.E.S.T.S. lays great emphasis on encouraging parents to be actively involved in their children’s development to help them reach their potential.

There is now a lot more support for children with disabilities or additional needs in Ealing compared with 29 years ago, especially since the setting up of Ealing’s Service for Children with Additional Needs (ESCAN) at Carmelita House. However P.E.S.T.S.’ core principles have not changed in that time. They are just as relevant and valuable today as in 1981.

In P.E.S.T.S.’ first report written all those years ago a parent is quoted saying how much she appreciated P.E.S.T.S. because “someone else was genuinely interested in what she (her child) could do. At P.E.S.T.S. we can talk over our children’s achievements with the same pride as any other parent. P.E.S.T.S. stopped the feeling of isolation. You discovered other parents with similar problems – you weren’t alone in the world” . Overcoming that feeling of isolation is just as big a need today, if not bigger, so let us hope that P.E.S.T.S. will be around to provide support and friendship for many years to come.