Allan Blackburn, centre manager and owner of GB Antiques and Lancaster Leisure Park, asks where the support has gone for our young people with special needs

THE parent of a child with special needs doesn’t expect an easy path. In fact, one sometimes has to point out life contains many of the joys and everyday banalities everyone traverses.

But life often isn’t ‘normal’, even when, as the father of a daughter with severe autism, serene calm is the appearance one strains to maintain.

First comes initiation: navigating the minefields of diagnosis, treatment and funding; officialdom, interminable paperwork and frustrating dead ends. There is no ‘guidebook’, not least due to the range of disabilities, from physical disabilities to special needs: Down’s syndrome, ADHD and autism, to name but a few.

These are paths well-trodden by my wife and I, and my sympathies go to those starting out on the path, or into the maze. However, with our daughter now an adult in her 30s, our path somehow seems fainter, the hedges higher.

Families carry the majority of care for a child with disabilities, with state- and charity-funded initiatives providing relief and support. Even threatened with cuts, many lucky ones can attend state schools, yet what ministers don’t seem to appreciate is disabled children grow up, facing a lack of structured support to assist them as participative members of adult society..

With even basic social and job-focused support and training slashed, they are robbed of the chance to participate as valued members of adult society.

Depressingly, figures on underfunding in adult social care published by the Local Government Association confirm an inevitable drop in adults with learning disabilities in the UK workforce, from 7.1 per cent to 5.8 per cent. As LGA’s community wellbeing chairman said: “A young person with a learning disability needs a social care system that will be there for them in the decades ahead, enabling them to live dignified, independent lives.” Hear, hear!

As ever, charities take up the slack, but hit by slashed state funding plus reduced public donations after recent scandals, they are struggling too. Fantastic charities such as the Eric Wright Trust give socially and physically disadvantaged groups life-changing adventures right here in the lakes, but day-to-day resources are dwindling.

In Lancaster, the White Cross Adult Education centre, which ran many inclusive and inspiring courses, is now just council and social services offices. And in a society which directs all young people towards University debt, whatever their aptitude, I cannot be the only one lamenting the practical courses of long-lost secondary moderns and polytechnics. Young adults with learning disabilities are falling even further down the cracks.

I speak from experience. At Lancaster Leisure Park, visitors enjoy our wonderful forest garden, project-managed by ‘Fork to Fork’.

This amazing volunteer gardening group provides opportunities for people with learning difficulties and mental health needs to gain horticultural skills.

I, and anyone witnessing their work, is in awe of the transformation in participants’ social and community integration skills, confidence and purpose.

Yet, since I donated the land to them in 2013, they have often teetered on the brink of closure. For every grant from the Henry Smith foundation or donation of trees from the Woodland Trust, another funding stream dries up, another agreement is reneged.

To prevent this, myself and Matt Jackson from the Lancaster Brewery at the Park set up a trust, initially with our own funds, to safeguard this valuable resource.

But to give this inspiring initiative a future, we rely on fundraising and a JustGiving page.

And this is echoed in thousands of other projects clinging on across the UK.

Our young people - all our young people - are too valuable, and, as we see every day in the forest garden, have too worthwhile a contribution to make, to be disregarded by the state in this way.