Andie Couper, Manager at the Ladybird Developmental Group in Lossiemouth, Moray

alt=""The Ladybird Group was established in 1985 by the late Dr Iain White and his wife Ann for pre-school children aged 0-5, from Lossiemouth and the surrounding area, who have additional support needs. The centre is managed by a voluntary committee and is registered as a charity in Scotland.

The group can care for up to ten children at any one time with only five children attending each session, giving high level support on a one to one adult to child ratio. All children are referred by a professional agency; this may be a GP, Health Visitor, Therapist or Social Worker who has concerns about a child’s development. Needs range from mild to severe difficulty with physical, learning or sensory impairments, developmental delay, or social reasons.

Children can be referred as soon as the need is recognised, often shortly after birth, and can be for long or short-term attendance. Each keyworker develops an individual programme for their child with targets to work towards, plus input from the various visiting specialists. These include physiotherapists, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, early years language support teachers, teachers for hearing and the visually impaired, educational psychologists, health visitors and social workers.

Andie’s role is Manager at the Group, so she has overall responsibility for its running, as well as working alongside the other keyworkers and being responsible for her own children within the group.

It is the children at Ladybird who are indeed the focus at all times, and the work done by Andie and her team makes a direct difference both to them and to their families.

“We aim to help our children develop physical, social, language and cognitive skills through a variety of play activities. We aim to help each child develop at their own pace, achieve their own potential and support their transition on to local playgroups and nurseries if appropriate.”

We try to make everyday nursery activities available to children who may find such play difficult to access for a variety of reasons. We allow them to play alongside their peers in a fun secure environment with support from a variety of therapists and their keyworkers. We also offer valuable respite to the child’s parent/carer. This greatly improves the quality of life in families under enormous stress and also provides the opportunity for them to meet and get support from others living in similar difficult family situations.”

As with most jobs where children are involved, no two days are the same for Andie.

“On a ‘typical’ Monday, our older children attend for 5 hours, staying with us from 9.15 until 2.15pm. We use this long session to go out in our bus to a variety of locations such as local farms (in spring) the beach (in summer, if the weather allows!) the local swimming pool and soft play in a local primary school. We try to incorporate these topics (and anything we have managed to collect along the way) into our planning for activities during the rest of the week. Each day also requires the keyworker to incorporate programmes such as movement or speech and language programmes for their child.

From Tuesday to Thursday the older group only attend a morning session and then we have a very quick lunch break before the younger children arrive for their afternoon session. Once the children leave at the end of the day we then all clean and prepare the centre for the following day.

After that, Andie gets to work on the manager’s side of her job which involves talking on the ‘phone to lots of different professionals, on a range of subjects, from possible new referrals, to how best to continue to support the group’s current children. But she is fortunate to have a great team: “My job would be impossible if I did not have the support of a fantastic administrator who must go mad every morning when she comes in to a bundle of notes on her desk of more jobs on her ‘to do’ list!”

Although incredibly rewarding, the role also has its challenges, as Andie explains: “We require approximately £70,000 every year in order to operate smoothly. This is becoming increasingly hard to find even though we are a partner centre with Moray Council Educational services and they give us 30% of our costs.

The money for funded places covers less than one-third of the true cost of the child’s place, due to the one-to one keyworker support allocated to them. As a charity we work tirelessly to raise funds and continue to rely very heavily on the support of the general public, local business and the RAF Community. We have a very hard working committee who try to come up with new ways to raise the money in such hard economic conditions and I am forever amazed at their determination and dedication to our children.”

So, how did Andie arrive at Ladybird?

“I had been a primary school teacher in Moray for nearly 20 years when my family were given the opportunity to go to Australia due to my husband’s work. I studied for a Masters degree in Special Education while I was there and also learnt sign language at a local college. I taught, part time, in a bi-lingual class for hearing impaired children which I loved, working alongside deaf classroom assistants and another Teacher of the Deaf.

I knew about the Ladybird Group and about its good reputation for their work with preschool children in the area, so when we came back home and I heard they were looking for a manager, I jumped at the chance to try to work at the group.”

Andie remains passionate about her work, and despite any stresses, knows how rewarding it can be.

“I love being able to work so closely with each child and to get to know their family. It is hugely rewarding to work alongside the staff at Ladybird and see how each child benefits from the care and dedication of the amazing staff. Despite the limitations of our accommodation it is a wonderful environment in which to work.”

Her final advice? “Look for the positives and SMILE!”

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