A charity which began life in a school cupboard is celebrating 40 years of helping disabled children and their families.
Hounslow Toy Library loans specialist equipment to children with disabilities as well as offering a vital release valve for their carers.
Families with disabled children of all ages can attend the library in Inwood Park, just off Hounslow High Street, every Wednesday and Thursday to borrow toys, books and DVDs which are specially designed to stimulate their children's development.
The weekly sessions are also a chance for the children to play and for adults to unwind and chat with other carers, as well as seeking advice from the trained practitioners on hand.
The charity is due to celebrate its 40th anniversary with a special picnic in Hounslow on Saturday, April 23, which it has invited any members past or present to attend.
'It lifts the pressure and gives you a boost for the week ahead'
Meryl Matthews' son Garan was born with tuberous sclerosis - a condition meaning he has learning disabilities and kidney problems - in October 1976, a month before the library opened.
She was one of its first members and went on to work as a practitioner there, helping families choose the best toys, for 23 years.
"It's a stress-free, non-judgmental environment for parents . I think a lot of people come because it gives them a break from the constant demands of being a carer," she says.
"It's a few hours where that pressure can be lifted and you can get a boost for the week ahead."
The library opened on November 3, 1976, after being set up by a handful of parents and professionals, and had a nomadic existence in its early years.
It initially operated out of a cupboard at Parkway School in Cranford, where it stored a handful of toys which parents could borrow once a month at the same time as attending a talk, discussion or film about living with disabilities.
Previous homes included a terraced house which was condemned
As its popularity grew, more space was needed and it moved to various locations, including a dingy room in the basement of Treaty Hall, the old council HQ where the Treaty Centre now stands.
Following brief spells at Hounslow Youth Centre, the old Smallberry Green School, Hounslow Manor School and even a condemned terraced house in Holloway Street, the charity finally moved into its own purpose-built home, which it occupies to this day, after supporters raised £200,000.
The library now has more than 400 members and 4,000 toys. As well as the two weekly sessions, it runs activities for groups from special schools, is used by professionals working with disabled children and is visited by medical students as part of their training.
Members pay just £2 for an annual subscription, plus a small sum to borrow toys (or £10 a year for unlimited loans), and the charity needs to raise more than £15,000 a year to keep running.
Hounslow's mayor Nisar Malik helped the library's cause by choosing it in May 2015 as one of his two charities of the year.
Ms Matthews says the library has been a godsend for her and many other parents over the year, as having a disabled child can be an "isolating" experience.
'It's chaos sometimes but it doesn't matter'
"As a parent it's very isolating having a child with a disability because your child never fits into general society in the same way. They don't react in the same way as other children and they don't develop at the same rate," she said.
"Your child is often a long way behind other children of the same age and although people are very friendly they will always ask what's the matter and you have to go through the same story time and time again.
"At the toy library, everyone has problems so you don't tend to get that, and you're able to share your experiences. Whatever you're going through there's usually someone who's been there before.
"It's lovely to be able to sit and relax with a cup of tea. It's chaos sometimes but it doesn't matter because everyone's in the same situation. One week your child might be causing havoc but the next week it will be someone else's."
- Hounslow Toy Library is celebrating its 40th anniversary on Saturday, April 23 with a picnic in Hounslow. If you have been involved with the charity over the years and would like to attend, you can call it on 020 8569 5451 for details of the time and location.
- For more information about the charity, visit the Hounslow Toy Library website .