Charities have been one of the hardest hit sectors throughout the past 18 months both globally and much closer to home.  Over its 35 year history, jellybean has sponsored literally hundreds of children and supported education projects in Africa through Plan International but in 2021, as we emerge from the effects of the pandemic, we wanted to keep things local and thus donated £10,000 to White Lodge in Chertsey to help save their Hydrotherapy pool and a further £10,000 to CWSNF, a Surrey based charity that I have been a patron of for many years.  All funds raised through the foundation go straight to the point of need (all staff donate their time and expertise) and as a result CWSNF has a wide range of worthy applications to consider and allocate much needed funds to across the year.  I was particularly delighted when the money was granted to an application from Woodlands School in Leatherhead (just a driver and 5 iron from jellybean HQ) to install Audio and Visual equipment in their Upper School Hall.  What could be more worthy and more local than that!

This vital installation took place over the summer holidays 2021 and I was absolutely delighted to visit the school today to see for myself the remarkable difference it has made to the school by benefitting both staff and pupils alike in so many ways.  It was an absolute pleasure to meet some of the hard-working and dedicated team, Lorna Banfield, Angela Franklin and Chris Richards, who made me so welcome and shared with me some insights on how the school operates and how vital it is to the quality of life for all the pupils.  It was an honour and so special to be able to visit the main assembly hall while a sensory session was taking place with some pupils with complex needs and to see the wonderful work that all the staff do and witness how the children react to the jungle and space theme that was today’s stimulation, made possible by the installation.  It was very grounding and humbling to see this firsthand and I was completely overwhelmed when I was given flowers and a homemade glittery card from the children as a thank you.

I also met Woody, the assistance dog in training, who at 11 months old is calm, collected and obedient quite different from my Red Fox Labrador puppy Kenzo who at the same age does not show quite the same level of obedience and calmness.  Clearly, I have a lot of work still to do to get him up to scratch.

The new sound and lighting system in the Upper Hall creates a place where whole school assemblies can be held with all staff and pupils being able to participate and see the screen.  It also provides a space where the school can carry out internal staff meetings and external and internal training.

The majority of pupils at Woodlands School have sensory regulation needs and require sensory input throughout the day so this equipment means the school is able to carry out sensory integration sessions.  The new equipment also means that PE lessons with sensory integration can be carried out in the hall, when the weather does not permit outdoor activity, and, when therapists carry out rebound therapy on trampolines, sound and light is there to enhance these sessions too, all of which is very calming for pupils.

The school hosts a big annual Christmas Production, to which parents and visitors are invited, and have previously had to borrow or hire any lighting and sound equipment. Now that they have their own, they will be able to really enhance their productions and use the large screen to provide a visual backdrop.

Many pupils at the school are non-verbal and use alternative methods of communication. The new wireless microphones mean that all of them are now able to participate and interact verbally in assemblies as well as deliver their lines in the annual performance using their communication devices.

I am thrilled that our donation has made a real and tangible difference to the life of pupils at Woodlands School and I hope that it not only enhances their sensory experience and education but also enables them to be more involved in life-changing learning and activity at the school.  Thank you to everyone today for allowing me a glimpse into your world and I can’t wait to see the Christmas production in December.