IT was a scene epitomising family fun.

This gathering of people with picnics in the local park was much more than a community coming together.

Awareness of Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA) is imperative, particularly as arthritis is perceived to be a condition affecting older people, and Eliza’s Picnic - christened after a little girl who copes every day with this condition - is the perfect event for bringing it to the public’s attention.

Eliza’s mum, Trish Andrews, explains the first ‘Eliza’s Picnic’ took place last year at West End Park in Cleckheaton.

The event is a collaboration between Cleckheaton Rotary Club, the Friends of West End Park who were seeking ways to make use of the area, and Trish who wanted to host an event raising awareness of the condition her seven-year-old daughter was diagnosed with when she was just 18 months old.

Trish, from Liversedge, explains she initially noticed her daughter’s left knee looked swollen and wouldn’t straighten.

Following tests Eliza was diagnosed with oligoarticular JIA (Juvenile Arthritis) and a treatment plan was put in place.

By the time Eliza was 20 months old around 15 of her joints were affected. It was at that stage she was diagnosed with polyarticular JIA.

Treatment involved steroid injections to reduce the swelling in her joints. Eliza currently has infusions every four weeks.

Her ankles, toes, knees, hips, fingers, wrists and elbows are currently affected by the condition which Trish explains is also starting to affect her daughter’s eyes after she developed uveitis (inflammation in parts of the eye which can cause blindness if it isn’t treated quickly).

“Someone once described it as imagine your joints are slowly being pulled apart and that is basically the pain because it is the inflammation getting inside the joints and starts pulling them further apart,” explains Trish.

Although it limits the activities Eliza can participate in - she recently joined the Brownies but her attendance depends on her condition - her proud mum says her daughter has learned to live with the condition and takes it all in her stride.

“Your whole perspective on life changes. You soon learn to realise what is important in life and what is not. We deal with this 24 hours a day, seven days a week from getting out of bed in a morning,” says Trish.

“It is devastating - there is no other word for it - but you do learn to accommodate it and to accept it.”

While Eliza always tries to join in with her peers in activities she is aware of her limits and Trish says her daughter’s school is extremely supportive.

“She can walk a short distance but even that is painful and she walks with a limp lots of the time, but because she hasn’t known any different she just gets on with it,” says Trish.

“Her stamina, her courage, the way she just deals with it is just phenomenal.

“She just doesn’t understand how amazing she is, what she deals with but she doesn’t see herself as any different from other children.”

Trish also credits the medical staff who are involved in Eliza’s care.

“They are absolutely amazing,” she says.

Dr Mark Wood, Lead Clinician for Paediatric Medical Outpatient Specialities (Rheumatology, Endocrinology, Allergy, Diabetes and Chronic Pain) at Leeds Children’s Hospital explains Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA) is the name given to arthritis that starts before a child’s 16th birthday, lasts for at least six weeks and is not related to any other disease.

The Leeds Paediatric Rheumatology department looks after around 350 children with JIA throughout Yorkshire.

Dr Wood explains early diagnosis of JIA allows better response to treatment.

Symptoms include persistent but usually variable pain or altered function of a joint such as difficulty walking or using hands for an activity. Joints with arthritis are usually stiff first thing in the morning and after sitting/sleeping during the day. Affected joints are usually swollen and warm, but this is not always obvious as some joints such as hips are under thick muscles. Often young children do not highlight concerns or describe pain.

“Unfortunately blood tests cannot rule out arthritis, as they are often normal in children with JIA. Assessment includes careful examination of all a child’s joints and further tests as needed,” says Dr Wood.

Depending on the joints affected, children with JIA can struggle with different functions and disabling pain can impact on walking, playing, eating, dressing, washing and school-life. It can also affect family life and the child or young person’s mood and energy level.

However, he says JIA can be controlled most of the time with treatment such as steroid injections or steroid tablets.

Dr Wood explains research is ongoing to try to improve management and most children with JIA under the care of the Leeds Paediatric Rheumatology service are offered the opportunity to be involved in research.

Support and advice is also available for children with JIA and their families from specialist nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and clinical psychologists.

Eliza’s four-year-old sister, Zara, is also a constant support to her sister according to Trish. “Zara is really really supportive as well. She will come and sit next to her and give her a cuddle - she is amazing,” says Trish.

She recalls while the diagnosis was devastating they remain optimistic and are keen to raise awareness, hence Eliza’s picnic.

Such was the success of the initial event, which raised £2,300 for charity, the decision was made to hold another event.

“We were asked by lots of people if there was going to be another event next year so in November we began planning again for this year’s event,” says Trish.

Hundreds of people attended the event which offered plenty of fun activities. “It was a phenomenally amazing day, so much fun, so much laughter. Everybody enjoyed themselves. People were sat on rugs enjoying a picnic,” says Trish.

“But I couldn’t have done it without Cleckheaton Rotary and the Friends of West End Park and the support from the local community is astounding. We have had local businesses giving up their time and their equipment and local bands coming for free and a local DJ coming and doing it for free. It is incredible the local community have come back to support this,” says Trish.

“It really makes you feel you can get through this - we can do it.”

For more information visit or call the helpline on 0800 5200 520.