'They said my child was incompatible with life’: Founder behind Peterborough's Little Miracles reflects on helping 15,000 families

CEO shares what made her start up landmark Peterborough charity
Little Miracles boss Michelle King with her son Oliver.Little Miracles boss Michelle King with her son Oliver.
Little Miracles boss Michelle King with her son Oliver.

For some time now, Little Miracles has been a much-loved, vital part of the Peterborough community.

Indeed, the parent-led hub has continued to support children with additional needs, disabilities and life-limiting illnesses for more than a decade.

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The Bretton-based charity - which now has 14 centres across the region - saw more than 15,000 families make use of its services last year.

15,000 families made use of Little Miracles services last year, including the sensory room where Michelle is pictured.15,000 families made use of Little Miracles services last year, including the sensory room where Michelle is pictured.
15,000 families made use of Little Miracles services last year, including the sensory room where Michelle is pictured.

Along with on-site activities, counselling and training, Little Miracles also provides school outreach and home education sessions.

The driving force behind this vital community hub is CEO, Michelle King.

Relaxing in the charity’s extraordinary sensory room with her lively 15-year-old son Oliver, she tells the Peterborough Telegraph what inspired her to found the charity back in 2010.

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“When I was pregnant with Oliver we had quite a difficult pregnancy.

“We knew from the 20-week scan that there was going to be something wrong but we didn't really know what.”

At the time, Michelle came to believe that her own health was the main cause of concern.

‘Incompatible with life’

“They thought it was me that was poorly, initially,” she said, “I was scanned four or five times a week, every week before I got referred to Leicester.”

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It was then doctors revealed Michelle’s unborn baby would almost certainly be born with significant disabilities.

“At 35 weeks they said that my child was incompatible with life and that we should have a termination.”

Michelle went on to give birth to Oliver, who was born with Down’s Syndrome.

He also had no walls or valves in his heart, and no oesophagus. Doctors did not expect him to live longer than a year.

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Mother and son spent the next 15 months in hospital in Leicester receiving specialist support. When they were finally discharged however, nobody in Peterborough knew they’d come home and so no provisions were in place.

“It wasn't until we were running around trying to work out ‘how do we get more oxygen’ [that] anyone in the community realised we'd been discharged,” she said, explaining how Oliver needs oxygen cylinders to breathe.

While Michelle quickly realised “having a disabled child was hard,” it was the lack of support which really caught her out: “it was actually the isolation that we found a lot harder,” she said.

The isolation and stress finally got the better of Michelle after one hospital appointment, when she was endeavouring to get Oliver - and his cumbersome oxygen cylinder - home on public transport.

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“We were trying to get on the bus and the bus driver refused to let us get on.”

Michelle said the bus driver thought the oxygen cylinder might be dangerous.

“So I threw a tantrum - I sat in the aisle and had a cry.”

At her lowest ebb, Michelle was immediately comforted by another lady on the bus. Her name was Tessa Capon, and she too had a child with Down’s Syndrome. The two women went for a coffee.

Michelle remembers: “Tessa was the first person who told me that ‘no matter what happened, everything would be okay.’”

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The two of them decided to meet for coffee again the following week. And then the week after that. Soon enough, their meetings developed into something more substantial:

“Every week a few more mums came and soon we started having too many kids around the cafe’s tables,” she explained.

The fledgling group was concerned about how they were all “blocking the fire exits” and so the decision was soon made - it was time to hire a children’s centre.

“So we started, officially, at Honeyhill Children’s Centre, back in March 2010.”

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The weekly drop-in sessions at the Honeyhill Children’s and Community Centre in Paston proved popular.

The women created a safe and welcoming environment where children and their parents could meet up, engage and enjoy meaningful, fun activities.

As things progressed, the group expanded its remit to become a peer-to-peer mentoring project, and endeavoured to offer additional services, such as holiday activities and emotional support.

Michelle, smiling now, has a far away look in her eye:

“Yeah, that’s how we started - just a group of mums coming together to support each other.”