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Teenager Jess Brown is hoping to get a new wheelchair to help her find the independence she craves.

Jess, aged 18, needs a lightweight wheelchair to help her manoeuvre her way around Alton College in Hampshire where she is studying a BTEC in media studies. It would replace her current, heavier wheelchair which she has difficulty propelling over any distance.

Jess, who lives with her family in Alton, has a diagnosis of Sticklers Syndrome and Sensory Motor Polyneuropathy which means her sight and hearing are affected as well as her joints. Whilst she can walk a few steps at a time, she relies on a wheelchair for wider mobility needs.

Mum Caroline Brown said: “Jess’s existing wheelchair is just so heavy that she can’t propel it very far herself; she gets extremely tired and has to rely on others to push her around. A lightweight wheelchair would help her be more independent – and improve her fitness at the same time. All the while she is propelling herself, it is helping her fitness.”

Jess is attending Alton College through a post-16 link from Treloar School in Holybourne, where she is a pupil and member of the school swimming squad. Caroline said: “This equipment would be a huge benefit to Jess not only at college but in all aspects of her everyday life. For instance, she is hoping to find a work experience placement with a local media company and a new wheelchair would make any placement so much easier for her.”

Jess added: “To be able to have a lightweight wheelchair would enable me to enjoy a form of independence that a lot of teenagers take for granted. It would make such a difference to my life!”

A lightweight wheelchair will cost £2,911 – with local wheelchair services pledging to underwrite £657 of this. This prompted the Brown family to turn to leading UK children’s disability charity Newlife Foundation for help with funding.

Newlife has awarded £366,012 to fund 222 equipment grants for children in Hampshire. But the charity is experiencing hugely increased demands on its resources; calls to the Newlife Nurse Helpline – 0800 902 0095 – have shot up and there are thousands more hits on the charity’s website

“Because of the huge demand,” said Newlife CEO Sheila Brown, OBE, “we are calling on ‘local heroes’ to help us raise money to fund equipment in Hampshire. Newlife guarantees that 100 per cent of any gift or donation will go directly to support disabled children in the county.”

If you think you can help, the Newlife Community Fundraising Team can be contacted on freephone 0800 988 4640. Any individual or organisation thinking of running a fundraising event is asked to contact the team, who can offer support and guidance.

Newlife is currently working with a total of five families in Hampshire, with equipment needs totalling £17,317. Any money raised in excess of Jess’s needs will be used to help other disabled and terminally ill children in the county.

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