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Interview: Naomi Graham, founder, CEO of Growing Hope

23 July 2021

‘I love coming alongside families and seeing how small changes make big differences’

We’re a charity, providing free therapy for children and young people with additional needs, in partnership with churches across the UK. I founded it in December 2017, with the support of King’s Cross Church.

I’d spent a short time in Thailand and India seeing how local churches provide health care. They also share their faith with families of children who had additional needs, and I wondered how the Church in the UK could further support health care.

I’d worked in the NHS, and seen first-hand the impact of long waiting lists and limited options for intervention for children with additional needs. I was also working in private practice, and knew a family who had bailiffs knocking on their door, and yet chose to pay for private therapy because they wanted help for their son.

I’d been working as an occupational therapist with families, wanting to be able to pray for them where they felt overwhelmed, but not being able to do so in a secular service. Growing Hope bridges a gap in health-care services: meeting a practical need, and also sharing the hope Jesus brings in people’s lives.

We address physical, learning, mental-health, and undiagnosed needs — anything which impacts on someone’s ability to participate within everyday activity. So we provide occupational therapy, physiotherapy, speech and language therapy, music therapy, art therapy, and children’s counselling — free of charge.

Dr Karen Horridge and her colleagues published a report in 2019, finding that families of children with additional needs across Europe had experienced significant cuts to therapy services.

We run groups to support siblings, parents, and carers, and we can also offer hope in Jesus, through giving them opportunities to pray and be supported to access church, if this is something they would like to do.

We’d love to partner with further churches across the UK; so we’ve set up a replicable model, keeping costs relatively low. With grants, donations, and church fund-raising, and using church premises, we pay our professional therapists the NHS-banding equivalent; so every local clinic becomes its own local charity run with their church. We invite volunteers to support the therapists through fund-raising, child care, and training to facilitate our “When Things Change” programme for parents and carers.

We have two clinics — one in King’s Cross, and one in Brockley, south-east London — and we’ve just partnered with St James’s, Downley, to set up Growing Hope High Wycombe in the year ahead. We’ve also just grown our national team, who are working together to set up 20 free therapy clinics in partnership with local churches across the UK by 2030.

Some would say that this means state-funded services can lean more heavily on charities, or don’t recognise the needs that they’re not addressing; but, by supporting families, advocating for them, and measuring and reporting on our clinical outcomes, we’re able to highlight the importance of this extra provision and the need to fund it.

Our values are hope, community, courage, innovation, and generosity. We believe Jesus brings hope to children, young people, and families, even in the most difficult situations; and that underpins everything that we do. On a practical level, this means that the lead therapist and clinic manager of each Growing Hope clinic, which is its own charity, supported by the Growing Hope national charity, serves within the partnership churches’ staff team on Sunday mornings — to enable church to be as accessible as possible for individuals with additional needs.

It’s been so encouraging to see our families go on this journey. One single mum who hadn’t been in church for several years couldn’t believe it when I said that they could come along to church. They weren’t going because they were worried about how they could take their son, who has autism. They’re now part of our church family, and they’ve invited along several other families who have children with additional needs. Families with limited church background, and families who have some church background in their past, start to feel a part of community.

I’m an occupational therapist, and continue to work with families through Growing Hope King’s Cross. I feel that God created me with a desire to try and see people for who they’ve been created to be, and equip them to fulfil God’s purpose for them. As a teenager, I became a befriender and then a respite foster carer for a young boy with Down’s syndrome — he taught me so much about joy and living life in all it’s fullness.

I love coming alongside children and families and seeing small changes — such as being able to tie laces, sit at the table for two minutes, or get dressed — which make a big difference to their lives.

I grew up in a Christian home with brilliant parents and three younger brothers. Our home was always a place where anyone was welcome and anyone could be themselves. I’ve learnt what it is to be generous with my time, energy, and resources from my family. I would love to be a mum and create a home like the one I experienced growing up.

I now live in London, working as CEO for Growing Hope part of the week, and as a lead therapist for Growing Hope King’s Cross the rest of the week.

My first experience of God would have been at New Wine summer festival when I was about seven, feeling God was asking me to go where he sent me. Then, a couple of years later, I had a significant moment of being filled with the Holy Spirit, and really felt God drawing close, and being with me as I shared my heart with him.

Those experiences were the beginning of a journey of listening to God and stepping out where I felt led. Starting Growing Hope was the result of a lot of prayer and support from people around me who helped me to take the leap. I’m constantly blown away by God’s faithfulness along the way in the journey.

I am angry when people are left out or ignored because they are different in some way, or have a need which is hard to understand.

Going for an outdoor swim makes me happy. Yes, I do love cold water! I’ve just signed up for a year to swim every day in the Ladies’ Pond on Hampstead Heath. My favourite sound is probably being out in nature early in the morning, preferably on a dry day.

This last year’s taught me the importance of being able to think about what I need. As someone who runs a charity, and likes to help people, it’s very easy for me to become overwhelmed, overworked — and then, slowly, without realising, not being fully myself. Learning to lead from a place of knowing that it’s OK to not be OK, and to take time to care for myself has been important.

I’ve really missed being able to have friends over for dinner and spend time with people close to me. I’m glad that with things easing I can start to do that a bit more again.

I often pray for a breakthrough for the families I’m working with. I also pray that God fills me with his joy and peace each day, so I can continue to wholeheartedly do what he’s calling me to do.

I’m hopeful that God will continue to build his Kingdom here on earth, and we’ll see more and more people who feel like they’re on the edges brought into community and freedom.

I’d choose to be locked in a church with Mother Teresa. I’d love to know more of her heart, motivation, and courage to do what she did, loving individuals who were seen as outcasts by society.

Naomi Graham was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.


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