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Our History

Smile Support & Care started life in September 1994 under the name SEARCH – Support Education and Respite Care for Children.

The creation of SEARCH was driven by Steven Clarke, an employee of IBM and chairman of Winchester MENCAP Society. With a severely disabled son, Steven was well aware of the need for respite care locally.

The aim of the new initiative was to enable parents in the catchment area of Winchester, Alresford, Bishop’s Waltham and Wickham to receive a break from the demanding 24-hour-a-day job of looking after their disabled child, knowing they will be cared for at home by fully-trained carers. The charity also offered respite care for children at Medecroft, a specially converted four-bedroomed house in Winchester.

The project started as a Making a Difference challenge at IBM, and with support from IBM, other like-minded parents, Hampshire County Council Social Services and other agencies, SEARCH was launched at Hursley House just five months after Steven’s team started working on it. SEARCH was based at Merrydale Children’s home in Kingsworthy.

Steven Clarke: “This is a new concept in child care, and one that’s much needed in the community.”

The then Mayor of Winchester, Cllr Ray Pearce: “This is something that the Winchester area needs desperately…There is a basic need for care, and this is going to give hope to a lot of people.

SEARCH’s first year was one of mixed blessings. Much effort went into building up the charity, hiring support workers and setting up the infrastructure. Cashflow was an ongoing challenge and SEARCH received notice to vacate its office space with just five days’ notice. Committee members and other agencies pulled together and SEARCH continued to grow, with support workers providing over 2,000 hours of help per quarter – an impressive total for such a new organisation.

A year later, with the help of another local charity, the SEARCH committee were freed up from most operational matters also giving the charity new office accommodation and 24-hour-a-day telephone cover. SEARCH was then launched county-wide.

Such an ambitious scheme needed a great deal of support and funding.


A support worker’s week from 1995:

Monday and Wednesday – three hours each lunchtime with an 18 month old boy with Wolf Hirschhorn Syndrome, a serious chromosome disorder. It takes an hour to feed him, with many and varied distractions. He needs physiotherapy, and to be taken for walks, and his younger sister must also be looked after so Mum can rest for a while.

Tuesday – five hours with a 15 month old Downs Syndrome boy, who is also asthmatic, and has a pacemaker. He and his older sister get taken to Medecroft, where he is helped through their exercise routines, then it’s back home to be fed and receive physiotherapy – he still has to learn to sit.

Thursday and Friday – nine hours each day with a 2 ½ year old girl with Septo-optic Dysplasia. She is profoundly handicapped and 100% dependent. She must be fed all her meals, dressed, and needs her nappy changing. She needs chest physiotherapy several times a day, along with other exercises, and plenty of body contact. If she is well enough, which sadly is not so often, she is taken to Medecroft.