MESSY FUN: Shannon Scofield, Patrice Kooistra, Melissa Reif and Anden Kooistra at The Umbrella Network's Messy Play Event at Romp in the Park.
MESSY FUN: Shannon Scofield, Patrice Kooistra, Melissa Reif and Anden Kooistra at The Umbrella Network's Messy Play Event at Romp in the Park. Contributed

Rocky's Umbrella Network helped thousands of families

ARMED with a laptop and desperately wanting to decipher a confronting, confusing medical system, Raelene Ensby created The Umbrella Network Rockhampton.

It quickly grew from a personal project based in a room under Ms Ensby's house to a social hub connecting thousands of Rockhampton families, garnering dozens of prestigious accolades.

But at the end of August it will be time for Ms Ensby to take a well-earned holiday, as The Umbrella Network closes its doors.

The organisation won't be funded under the National Disability Insurance Scheme, but Ms Ensby is embracing the change.

She is choosing instead to focus on the positives, still amazed at the community support which helped Umbrella to flourish.

Ms Ensby is quick to emphasise that while it may have been her idea, the organisation's longevity was due to the work of many behind the scenes.

"If it wasn't for community organisations, for volunteers, donations, and the people that did stuff behind the scenes, I don't believe Umbrella Network would have existed as long as it did," she said.

While the primary goal of the organisation was to help parents of children with additional needs navigate a complicated system, Ms Ensby explained that this could in turn help mums and dads who were struggling to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

She said just being able to speak to others who had been in the same place and come out the other side was an enormous help to any parents mental health.

"You've just had a child and your body changes and your whole world changes and then you find out your child might have a disability or additional needs and you just want to see someone who's actually done it and can see that it's okay," Ms Ensby explained.

"Our children we wouldn't change for anything, but they might be a bit quirkier than someone else.

"Having someone who believes your story and not having to repeat your story over and over is huge."

Although it's hard to quantify with numbers, Ms Ensby estimated that 2000 people a month were involved in some type of service offered through Umbrella.

 

Raelene Ensby is looking to the future after the closure of The Umbrella Network.
Raelene Ensby is looking to the future after the closure of The Umbrella Network. Contributed

One program which The Umbrella Network was funded to provide to 55 families a year ended up servicing over 200.

"We wouldn't say no, which is probably our strength and our downfall," Ms Ensby said.

"People could walk into an open, friendly place.

"We didn't have an agenda, we accepted whoever walked in the door and gave them information they required.

"The system is such a hard thing to navigate unless you're faced with it every single day.

"Those families that didn't know where to start, what to do, could walk in and meet another mother or father and say 'how did you do it?'

"They could just come in and get an answer that doesn't have to take three days."

Some play groups will be continued by Livingstone Shire Council, while other services will be taken up by BUSHkids.

However, Ms Ensby said there would be a gap left without a space like The Umbrella Network where people could get easy answers to complex questions.

She's hopeful that someone else with a passion and inability to take no for an answer will take up the baton, as there are other people going through the same things.

"There are other people out there going through the same things as you are, you've just got to find them through the services in our community," she said.