Published: 12:55, 10 February 2020
| Updated: 13:38, 10 February 2020
It is a Wednesday afternoon and pupils at Five Acre Wood School in Maidstone are baking elephant-shaped biscuits while a therapy dog called Snowy pads up and down the corridor.
Spanning three sites with more than 300 members of staff, it looks after around 520 students with severe and complex learning difficulties, aged from three to 19.
Friends of Five Acre Wood School, a charity dedicated to raising funds on its behalf, is the Kent Messenger’s charity of the year, and over the coming months we will be shining a spotlight on its important work and goals.
Although government funding covers the basics, the Boughton Lane school, which has satellite classrooms at Palace Wood School in Allington and the Wolfe Building in Malling Road, Snodland, relies on the generosity of the community to raise cash for other much needed facilities, such as a hydrotherapy pool for its disabled pupils.
Each class only has around £200 statutory funding for the year, and that includes essentials such as stationery.
“You become incredibly resourceful,” says Laura Allen, high level teaching assistant for Daisy Class, who cares for seven children with profound and multiple learning difficulties.
She stands next to a sensory area, made using fairy lights and CDs bought in by the staff.
Alex Meaders, school fundraiser, says: “If anybody is getting rid of anything the teachers will turn it around into something. We get a lot of donations but you can never get enough.”
Lessons are geared towards developing pupils’ independence. This includes learning how to cook and regular trips to Sainsbury’s, to learn how to behave around other shoppers.
The school now wants to raise between £200,000 and £250,000 for a house in Snodland. It won’t be inhabited, but older pupils, aged 15 to 19, can practise life skills there.
We are asking Kent Messenger readers to contribute to the Buy a Brick Campaign, launched this week, which aims to raise £50,000 towards the purchase of the house.
Just £25 will pay for a brick and £10 will buy a tile.
Mrs Meaders said: “Some special needs schools have built units on site and the students can make a bed or clean it. But this isn’t realistic, we want our pupils to be able to walk to the house from the Wolfe Building.
“They are going to mow the lawn, if a window breaks we will get someone to teach them how to fix it. They can bake cookies and invite their friends over.
"There will be bills that need paying - they won’t obviously pay for them, but they will know to look out for them.”
Five Acre Wood’s commitment to ensuring its pupils face the best possible future can be seen in Grow 19, a further education college set up by the school, and launched in September.
Based at East Malling Community Centre, the establishment gives students, aged between 19 and 25, the opportunity to try different jobs and hone the skills they learn at college.
The Snodland house will help boost the pupils’ confidence further, Mrs Meaders said.
“One of the biggest issues with our students is a lack of confidence, some think they’re going to get something wrong and so they don’t try it. It’s incredible to see how they physically alter when they achieve something.”
To donate to the campaign click here.