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Jennifer Peters, Chair

I am a mother of two little girls, Paloma and Rosie and wife to my husband Darren. Our five year old, Paloma, was diagnosed with Autism in 2016. Several years prior to the diagnosis, we began (like many others) on a journey, manoeuvering the NHS and the Education system, to ensure we could get the best support in place to help our daughter. This was a long, arduous and stressful process - one which was incredibly challenging to do while holding a full-time job. I was fortunate enough to be able to take a break from my career as a Global Human Resources Director to focus on Paloma. It was at this time that I was first introduced to Skylarks. At a time when our lives were being turned upside-down, Skylarks. became a source of constant positive support that we so desperately needed.

After a short amount of time serving as a trustee in 2016, I was asked to Chair the Board. It is my distinct honour and pleasure to serve in this capacity. Our job is to ensure that those who use our services are as informed, supported and empowered as they can possibly be. It takes a village to raise our special kids and Skylarks plays a brilliant role in providing help and support for our families.

Gale Davies, Secretary

Jack of all trades is what I am best described as by everyone that knows me well. I apply the same amount of passion and commitment to whatever comes my way, paid or as a volunteer. I love working with my community, all walks of life, supporting fundraising events and committees. I am a champion for charities such as Lions Club International, British Legion, Cathja Barge (Local mental health charity), Our Lady of Sorrows, St. Bridget’s of Sweden (I am member of the Church Council) and of course Skylarks where I am a Trustee and Secretary. 

Hylda Wilson, Treasurer

Andrea Legrand

My first experience of Skylarks was after attending a course on autism (Early Bird Course) after my (then) 3y old son was diagnosed with ASD. At the sessions, I met other parents who were facing the same challenges as me, accepting diagnosis, understanding the consequences and trying to find out how to best find information & opportunities to ensure that my son could access education and achieve his full potential. My happy, lively little toddler was going to have a very different route through life to that I had expected and I needed to get equipped for it! I’m widowed and have a daughter with ADHD, she handles her condition well and I expected my son to be similar, not surprisingly, I had a lot to learn! 

I met Jennifer (now Skylarks Chair) and three other mums who were a huge inspiration to me in the way they supported each other and were fonts of a lot of knowledge. They had all discovered Skylarks and were huge advocates, using the services for support and also to educate themselves on their childrens’ conditions & the legal framework surrounding the world of SEN.
Having had a 25 year career in medical science, teaching at St Georges Hospital, medical research and then as a Vice–President in a Global Top 20 Pharmaceutical company, I thought through researching all the information available I would find an “answer to this condition”. I did not! For me, “the answer” has been not only equipping myself with knowledge but accepting that I have a child with a lifelong condition, that I need a team of expert therapists and many new supportive friendships to navigate the path ahead; be it NHS challenges, school support, ignorance in the community and ultimately support for possible future independence.
I joined Skylarks as a Trustee as I believe it provides a vital community service to families. Where I hope to add to the amazing team of selfless individuals who serve as Trustees & Volunteers is in the areas of NHS & Educational service development and fundraising to deliver the activities Skylarks provides to complement or fill gaps in publicly available services & support. 

Elissa Metzgen 

I have worked in asset management and banking for 20 years and 5 years ago became mum to Toby, who has spastic quadriplegia (and associated dystonia) and complex medical needs (recurrent chest infections, GORD). Toby now attends a private mainstream school along with his 8 year old brother. 
Further to our own poor experiences I am now working with my Local Authority to improve its EHCP processes, and working with my local CCG to improve performance measurement of therapists working with disabled children, to help ensure that all disabled children get what they need so that they can maximise their potential, rather than just those who have parents who can shout loudest or afford to have someone shout for them. We should be sharing best practice amongst all parents.

In addition I am a member of the City Disability Group (group of parents who work in the City who have disabled children). Our primary focus is the education of employers about what it means to have employees with disabled children (and later, help them understand they can have disabled employees!), but we are also helping each other from our own experiences. I lead the sub-group on Education, providing help and advice to other parents around the EHCP process. 

I am a passionate believer in the equality of disabled children and recognise that we have to start influencing society now so that our children are more accepted into society and the workplace, and long-term care is better provided and supported. Parents of disabled children face tremendous emotional, financial and physical challenges. There are many easy “wins” that we can provide to help them, and we should.

Mereille Nemh

I have been involved in Skylarks since 2006 (when my son attended the charity) and a Trustee since 2010. I am originally Lebanese but lived in Jordan till I moved to the UK in 2000. I am trilingual in Arabic, English and French. I have a son with additional needs. I am a private Doctor and have an MSc in Applied Psychology and Mental Health. I travel internationally speaking on such topics and helping other professionals. I have previously been the Chair of Richmond Parent Carers' Action Group: the parent forum for our area and a committee member of the NAS (National Autistic Society) Richmond Branch. I worked heavily with the Richmond local authority on the implementation of the Children and Families Bill in 2012-2014, which is now the basis for our SEN law. I have regularly attended the council’s CYPwDLD (Children and Young People with Disability and Learning Difficulties) meeting, which is the local council services oversight group, to lobby to protect services for our community in the face of threatened or actual cuts. In May 2011, I completed the Three Peaks Challenge for Skylarks. My passion is working directly with children and changing attitudes towards those with additional needs.

Catherine Michel

Skylarks has been of vital support to my son and my family since early 2011, soon after we learned of our son’s cerebral palsy diagnosis. With its community of people upon which we could rely for moral and practical support, the charity has made the journey with our son that much easier. The wide array of activities it offers for all types of disabilities meant we could also see and learn how so many others had to face and could overcome their challenges.
It was in this spirit of support that I decided to join the charity as a trustee. With my background in software and strategic consulting, I wanted to use some of my professional skills to help with the running of Skylarks. 
I have been in global IT and strategic consulting for almost 20 years, 10 of those as the founder and CTO of my own software company. I draw upon my business and technology acumen to help the charity to continue providing critical support to those families affected by disabilities. I have also participated in various fundraising and charitable initiatives over the years, including in support of Skylarks. 

Shirley-Ann Hickman

I’ve worked for over 10 years in PR, marketing and communications for charities, public and private sector organisations. For the last five years I have been teaching these topics, currently at Kingston University. Following the diagnosis of my children with various conditions I started to write a blog which has led to larger writing and speaking opportunities that raise awareness, acceptance of various conditions and special educational needs and support other parents. These include writing articles for online SEN publications such as Special Needs Jungle and The Mighty site. I am an active member of the SEND local communities. I recently joined the parent panel for the MAT Auriga Trust for the two new SEN schools in the Richmond upon Thames Borough.

I've used the services of Skylarks for the last six years and hope to give back some of the assistance that I felt was so valuable for me and my family. 

Michelle Tempest-Mitchell

Chris Key

Mitch Pender