TWO families linked together via a charity’s caring project are encouraging others to sign up for an overnight break.

Barry grandmother Shirley Orchard, who has been welcoming disabled youngsters into her home for more than 27 years, is championing the Barnardo’s community Links project which believes that disabled children have a right to be included in society with full access to all social, educational and leisure facilities and services.

The 62-year-old, of Dawan Close, has seen more than 24 children enjoy quality time in her care, since she first signed up in 1986, and such is her dedication to the cause she once gained the Paul O’Grady seal of approval – treated, as a special guest, to three days in London with shopping vouchers, a visit to a show, appearing on his teatime Channel 4 show, and being presented with his iconic Buster and Olga nodding dogs.

Shirley, her husband John, 67, and the rest of her family, currently welcomes 11-year-old Charlotte, who has Downs Syndrome, for overnight stays which gives her Dinas Powys-based family, mum Sue, dad Dave, 44, and sisters Jasmine, 14, and Maddie Hitt, nine, time to enjoy some quality time doing activities they would otherwise be unable to do.

Shirley said: “They come for respite and stay overnight up to the age of 18 when they leave.

“I’m partially sighted and it was a way for me to work from home as it meant I didn’t have to go out to work. I could be at home when my children got home from school.

“Barnardo’s had a training day at Barry Leisure Centre and two of us were going to do it, but my sister-in-law ended up in Tesco in the canteen. It’s just part of my life now – an extended family. They have all go different needs and they keep me young. It’s so rewarding – the love and support you can give another family. Charlotte is part of the family.”

Charlotte’s mum Sue, 46, said it had been a difficult decision to involve Charlotte with the Barnardo’s scheme as she had to learn to trust and not feel guilty about letting Charlotte go and feel she was going to be seen as unable to cope.

But, she said, she realised the whole family needed to have a break from Charlotte’s need for attention while Charlotte gained the ability to develop her own independence, establish a new social circle and have her own fun.

Sue said: “We can go swimming and play badminton.

“Charlotte has a great time with Shirley and packs her own bag on a Wednesday. She’s desperate to go. Shirley is so altruistic and gives us a break to do things we wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. That little bit of quality time I can spend with the other children. Charlotte has grown up and her school work has improved.”

Barnardo’s project worker Suzanne Lush said overnight short breaks were provided by approved carers in their own home, for short periods of time.

She said: “We ask that a short break carer is able to provide a minimum of two nights' stay per month, this is typically a weekend but could be a mid-week stay. A child staying with a short break carer must have their own bedroom. Throughout Cardiff and the Vale we are looking for carers of all religions, races and backgrounds, single, married or couples living together. Ideally carers would have some experience of caring for somebody who has a disability although this is not essential and full training and ongoing support is provided."

For details, contact Barnardo’s community Links on 02920571910 or email