YOUNG Riley Baker has been overjoyed at having his first birthday party with pals – at the age of 11.
For years Riley has struggled trying to make friends as he battled with being deaf. But on Saturday, dozens of children packed into Fratton Community Centre to join him for his very first birthday party.
The magical fixture was made possible after his mum, Lindsey, kick-started a Portsmouth support network for families and children living with hearing impairments in November.
Now, with a jam-packed roster, her son was delighted as scores of his new-found friends united to throw him a party to remember.
Riley, who wears a hearing aid in both ears and attends Arundel Court Primary School, said: ‘I have made lots of great friends since the club was set up and it feels good to be able to celebrate like this.
‘I’m really happy – this is a very good birthday.’
The festivities got underway as Riley and his pals were captivated by a slapstick display from globe-trotting silent clown Mr Pineapple Head.
The performer delivered an interactive routine which scored laugh-after-laugh among his young audience – before they tucked into a spread of party food.
And with more than 50 children and parents in attendance, Lindsey was blown away by the reminder of the impact her club has had in just a short space of time.
The 29-year-old, who leads the Saturday Kids Zone at Portsmouth Deaf Centre – just metres from her Arundel Street home – said: ‘It makes me really emotional and proud to see how many people have come here to celebrate with Riley. It’s amazing.’
Ms Baker herself is completely deaf, but wears a cochlear implant so she can hear.
She continued: ‘He has always struggled to socialise and his deafness does hold him back sometimes.
‘Throughout school, his teachers have always said how hard a worker he is, but he has never had a special bond with another child – he’s never had a best friend.
‘But with all the friends he has made through the club, he now feels comfortable enough to talk to other children and to be himself. It makes me well up.’
Within just two sessions of her weekend group, Lindsey had reached out to 16 families and 53 children across The News area.
Among those who joined were Becky and Paul Herbert, from Denmead, with their eight-year-old daughter, Amelia.
Mrs Herbert said: ‘There is nothing for deaf children around here – she is the only deaf child in her school.
‘But this club has been brilliant for Amelia to meet other children just like her and to be able to feel comfortable.
‘Lindsey has done a wonderful job and we were only too happy to come and celebrate with Riley on his birthday.’
Emily Small’s seven-year-old daughter Evie was fitted with a bionic ear, aged just 19 months, and added: ‘Evie loves coming to this group – she counts down the days.
‘We’re really happy to be here.’