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National Siblings Day: Grove Cottage celebrates the bond between brothers and sisters





Grove Cottage in Bishop’s Stortford is celebrating National Siblings Day on Wednesday (April 10) by sharing the stories of three members at the London Road home of Mencap and their brother or sister.

The date honours and recognises the singular link between siblings, which can often play an invaluable role in the lives of people with disabilities.

Ruby Willcocks, who won the Young Carer award at the 2022 Indies Community Awards, shares her experience of growing up with her older sister Rose, who was born with severe learning disabilities and autism, Freya Boittier reflects on the transformative impact of sharing her life with her non-verbal brother, Zac, who has autism, while Mel Wright, the eldest of four siblings, talks about the joyful spirit and resilience of brother Josh, who has Down syndrome.

Ruby and Rose
Ruby and Rose

Ruby talks about sister Rose

“Rose was born with a unique genetic fault, resulting in severe learning disabilities, developmental delay and complex medical needs. She is also diagnosed with autism and doesn’t speak any words at all.

“She is not only my older sister but also my best friend. As a young sister, it is safe to say that my world can seem very different from many of my peers.

Rose and Ruby
Rose and Ruby

“Even though this may include many more ups and downs, I am so incredibly grateful. Thanks to Rose, I have learnt a whole new form of communication – Makaton – and had the opportunity to meet/become a part of one of the most inspiring, welcoming and incredible communities there is.

Grove Cottage has helped me, my family and Rose in many ways. It has given Rose a place to truly be herself, develop friendships and have the best experiences possible.

“It has also allowed my family and me to experience some much-needed respite and given us the opportunity to meet other families/colleagues in very similar situations.

“Rose means the world to me and is truly the greatest sibling I could ask for.”

Ruby and Rose
Ruby and Rose

Freya talks about brother Zac

“Growing up with a sibling who is non-verbal and has autism is just like growing up with any sibling.

“As children, we would play games we had made up, finding ways to communicate without our parents knowing, and we were encouraged to be our unique selves.

Freya and Zac
Freya and Zac

“We had different ways of exploring the world, which would challenge each other’s thoughts and actions, but we all accept who our family are, quirks and all, because we have unconditional love for them.

“We learn from our siblings and their experiences of life, and you journey on through with the closest friends you’ll ever have. This is something we learn as we go into adulthood; your siblings are the best friends you will ever have.

Freya and Zac
Freya and Zac

“However, learning these things from a sibling that 20 or more years ago society struggled to accept and had a lack of knowledge on what autism was didn’t bring us down; it empowers myself and my other siblings to make small changes in how we treat others so we can help build a better world for those with learning differences.

“We would present in assemblies to the whole school about our brother, still have our friends round for sleepovers and parties.

“All of this was how we made small steps of spreading awareness and normalising that there are people like our brother in this world and he has a place in society.

Freya and Zac
Freya and Zac

“Without having my brother Zac, I definitely wouldn’t be the person I am today, and I probably wouldn’t work for Grove Cottage.

Zac started attending Grove Cottage’s youth club as a pre-teen which, before this, didn’t have a space outside of school to learn social skills with his peers.

“That was a stepping stone into Zac’s future, and today he still attends clubs as an adult and has recently performed at the Royal Albert Hall with his friends.

“I am so privileged that now at work, I get to use all the skills Zac has taught me as a sibling with our members, and that Grove Cottage is providing places within the local community that incorporate people like Zac into society.”

Mel talks about brother Josh

Josh and Mel
Josh and Mel

“Growing up and being the eldest of four siblings is probably one of the most life-altering blessings that I’ve had in my life.

“You laugh together, fight together, cry together. We all have different personalities and desires, and have taken different paths in life, but we have all impacted each other in some way or another.

“My youngest brother Josh had a profound impact on me growing up and continues to do so.

Josh and Mel
Josh and Mel

“He was born with Down syndrome. Growing up with a sibling with Down syndrome presented its challenges; people’s lack of knowledge or understanding of his condition was sometimes clear to see.

“It may have taken Josh longer to reach milestones, complete tasks or process things, but however hard or frustrating those things might have been at times, he has always persevered and given his very best.

“The positive and enriching aspects of having Josh as my brother is something I wouldn’t change for the world. To me, he has always been just Josh my beautiful, happy-go-lucky brother with his infectious laugh, amazing smile, sparkling personality and loving soul.

Mel and Josh
Mel and Josh

“He fills me with pride and my heart with love. We have an unbreakable sibling bond. Josh has taught me to be a better person, to love unconditionally and to see things through his unique outlook on life.

“I will always be thankful that Josh came into my life and will continue to educate, raise awareness and promote inclusion of people with Down syndrome.

“Josh has been lucky to have the support of a loving family and, in his words, ‘his second family’, Grove Cottage, to help him on his journey.

“He has been a member at Grove Cottage since nursery, and now he is an adult he still attends clubs, which allows him to socialise with friends and have some independence.

“As his sister I am very grateful for all that Grove Cottage offers Josh. To know that he is happy and enjoying himself in a safe environment really puts my mind at ease.”



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