IN 1994, when her 22-month-old daughter was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, Pip Hoyer Millar was desperate to find the right treatment for her.
But the mum-of-four was told it could be 12 months before her daughter Minty would be able to see a physiotherapist on the NHS.
She felt frustrated that she could not help her daughter immediately.
But she was so determined to do something that she refused to wait and began searching for private treatment in the UK and abroad.
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She was unable to find precisely what she wanted in the UK and then when Minty was nearly 10, Mrs Hoyer Millar found an affordable programme in Mielno, Poland.
The family made its first trip there in 2002, and for the next two years they travelled to and from Poland every other month.
Mrs Hoyer Millar then launched the Footsteps Centre from her home in Newington, near Warborough, in September, 2004.
The centre repeated the intensive physiotherapy programme using the Spider apparatus which Mrs Hoyer Millar discovered in Poland, and Minty began to make excellent progress.
“Before she went to Poland Minty was only abe to crawl, but after two years of treatment she was able walk independently and that’s why I knew I had to bring the treatment back,” said Mrs Hoyer Millar.
In 2008, the Footsteps Centre moved to premises in Warborough, near Mrs Hoyer Millar’s home in Newington.
She was originally told her daughter would never walk independently but she is now able to walk, talk and lead an active life.
Aged 22, Minty continues to have regular therapy at the centre, which moved from Warborough to Dorchester in 2011.
Mrs Hoyer Millar, 54, added: “Ten years is quite a landmark and I think it’s an incredible success story.
“Before the Footsteps Centre opened in Warborough I started it off in the grounds of my house in Newington. I brought two physios over from Poland and they did their sessions in an outbuilding in the gym.
“Then we got four physiotherapists and it got so busy we needed to move to the centre in Warborough.
“Three years ago, Footsteps moved again to Dorchester where it is based today.
“There is very little physiotherapy out there for kids, and the Footsteps Centre makes such an impact on the children.
“There are now about 11 physiotherapists, helping about 170 children a year.
“Hundreds of children have been treated at the Footsteps Centre over the years.”
Mrs Hoyer Millar, who now lives in Jericho, Oxford, with husband Christian and her daughter, also has three sons, William, 27, Thomas, 25, and Henry, 23.
She added that the Footsteps Foundation, of which she is a trustee, was set up to provide financial support for parents of children attending the Footsteps Centre.
“Some children come for three-week sessions with lessons costing about £50 an hour,” said Mrs Hoyer Millar.
Mum-of-three Ellen Davies, 45, from Cardiff, brought her daughter Shanelle Denver, nine, for her third three-week session at Footsteps this year, starting last Monday.
She said: “Shanelle has cerebral palsy – she understands everything but she can’t speak so it’s very frustrating for her.
“Her mobility is very limited – she can’t walk, she can only roll so using the Spider helps her to build up her stomach muscles.
“Since using the Spider she can now sit up unaided for a short time, and that helps me because it takes the pressure off me supporting her.
“The Footsteps Foundation helps families out and that’s a big help because the treatment is expensive.
“There is accommodation to find as well and we usually rent a cottage in nearby Clifton Hampden while we are here.
“I heard about the Footsteps Centre about four or five years ago, but we only started coming here last year.
“Shanelle has definitely made progress physically since starting at the Footsteps Centre and I hope it keeps going for the next 10 years.”
Filip and Gosia Swietlik are directors of the Footsteps Centre.
Mr Swietlik said: “We are very proud to celebrate 10 years of hard work and fantastic results which have enabled children to be more independent and happy.
“We never imagined Footsteps would grow so much or help so many children.
“We are so thankful to our Footsteps team and everyone else who has worked with us and supported Footsteps over the years.”
Clare Morley, fundraising manager of Footsteps Foundation, added: “If it wasn’t for Pip’s vision and determination, Footsteps would not exist. Both Pip and Minty are an inspiration for many of the families that now attend Footsteps.”
SPIDER HAS POWERS TO AID PHYSIOTHERAPY
FOOTSTEPS uses traditional mat-based physiotherapy with specialist equipment dubbed The Spider.
Shanelle Denver, nine, does her sessions in The Spider with Footsteps’ Joanna Zylkiewicz.
The equipment, developed in Poland, allows therapists to carry out a full course of exercises in any chosen position by physically supporting the child.
The child stands in the centre of the frame and their body is then moved to the desired position using elastic ropes, resembling a spider web.
They also use equipment like trampolines, treadmills and balance boards to help “stimulate the correct patterns of position and movement”.
Charity bosses said the therapy helps children improve essential movements like reaching, grasping and holding and get into the right position for crawling, sitting, kneeling, one-legged kneeling and standing.
Therapy last three weeks at a time and parents are then given advice on how to help their child at home, including recommended exercises.
FAMILIES GIVEN LIFELINE.
THE centre is based in Queen Street, Dorchester-on-Thames, South Oxfordshire.
The Footsteps Centre in Dorchester.
It has 13 healthcare professionals including therapists and physiotherapists and three office staff, including founder and trustee Pip Hoyer Millar, centre manager Kirsty Dawson and fundraising executive Clare Morley.
The centre welcomes volunteers via info@ footstepsfoundation.com Families with a gross household income of £65,000 or less, including benefits, can apply for grants for the Spider and mat-based therapies.
For information visit footstepscentre.com or call 01865 340376.
- FUNDRAISING activities for the foundation including baking sessions raise funds for families who rely on financial help.
Centre manager Kirsty Dawson and fundraising manager Clare Morley
The family grants project provides vital financial assistance to families who would otherwise struggle to afford the Footsteps therapy programme.
The project funds between 25 per cent to 75 per cent of the cost of a three-week therapy session at Footsteps.
About £1,500 will cover the cost of one three-week session for a disabled child receiving two hours of therapy each day.
If the family grants project did not exist, about 60 per cent of the families currently attending Footsteps would not be able to do so.
For further information on fundraising visit footstepscentre.com
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