A day out in the countryside always appeals and setting off from Waterloo Station on a Sunny Spring day presented an idyllic backdrop to my visit to Treloars School in Alton Hampshire.
As I walked the mile or so from the station I passed the rugby pitches and great Victorian edifice buildings of the local school and watched a class taking advantage of an outdoor lesson in the bright sunshine under clear blue skies with all the laughter and shouting that only a group of school children is capable of making.
A short distance further on and I turned left between two residential gatehouses into the Treloar’s School Estate. Already I could see the difference with the local school I had just passed. The main building is of a modern low rise industrial design and construction but laid out for a clear purpose with a long line of Treloar’s minibuses to the front and a large, light and airy reception area behind incorporating a cafe, seating area and reception desk with a sense of business efficiency and purpose to its arrangement.
I was immediately met by a raft of welcoming Governors and staff provided with my coffee and ushered into the main hall where various stalls offered a variety of goods for sale all made within the School. The ubiquitous tea towel was swiftly purchased but this was alongside a garden bird box, several cards and pens, posters and pictures which filled a couple of large bags to weigh me down on my journey home.
On arrival of the Lord Mayor and his party we were formerly introduced to the School and our programme for the day by Jon Coleville who I have known for a number of years as the Director responsible for Treloars fundraising. This crucial activity requires over £1.5 million a year just to cover the shortfall on annual running costs. This was followed by Tony Reid the CEO, who gave a very moving description of what Treloars School does for the most severely handicapped children in the UK who otherwise would have a more limited life. The Lord Mayor, Alan Yarrow then stepped forward and it was only then that I fully understood his own family’s exposure to disability with his son Max requiring special needs and support all of his life and now aged 33.
We were fragmented into colour coded groups with me in blue reflecting just a little how I was feeling as I had been apprehensive about the visit and how sad I may feel. To say I could not have been more wrong was an understatement as it was truly a happy and uplifting experience. The children aged from 11 to 18 were simply at school and we’re all smiles and enthusiasm. Despite their disabilities, which are severe and in the extreme, it was a happy place and simply recognisable as a wonderful place of learning, albeit with a distinct character.
To give you some idea as to how special Treloar’s is I was staggered by the statistic that there are 160 students with 555 teachers. Now that is what I call a solid student to teacher ratio! It soon became apparent to me during my visit to the classrooms why such a ratio is appropriate and makes Treloar’s so special and a world leader in what it does. I do not believe there can be any other place like it on this planet although it is clear to me there should be.
Joshua is 11 but is measured in terms of his development as a baby of about 6 months. He is profoundly deaf and they are not sure how much he can see. He is fed by a tube and has 24 hr Oxygen supply to counter his lung disease. He was strapped into a horizontal movable platform in which he attends lessons. It was then that I began to appreciate the magic of what happens at Treloars. He was smiling, laughing and fully participating in his sensor programme where they bring him to life through touch and senses. To Joshua and staff this was about education and schooling and to all of them it was fun.
Dan was in an upright platform to give him the sense of standing and seeing everyone on the same level. He was working with his tutor on the issue of bullying and how to deal with it. Despite his difficulty in speaking I was impressed with his clarity of thought and how quickly he got to grips with what bullying is and how to deal with it. He enjoys sport and plays wheelchair basketball and swims.
In the afternoon the 60 or so Livery Company Masters and guests with the Lord Mayor were entertained to a concert with a solo drum player, percussion bells, singing and music displays. Alfonso from Portugal had only been with the school for 6 months and is unable to speak or move but he has sufficient movement in his right leg to operate a special computer programme which helps him write and speak through a voice box. How remarkable that a severely disabled Portuguese 14 year old can understand two languages and can communicate in almost perfect English provided the equipment is there. Again that was not thorough therapy but schooling and education. A very bright boy with a brain keen to extend itself and only hindered by a body that prevents expression. Treloar’s helps overcome these challenges.
I left Treloars with the Lord Mayor and shared the train back to London with him and Neil Chrimes, the Lord Mayor’s Head of Programmes. I have known Neil for many years. He organised the Lord Mayor John Stoddard’s visit to India in 2006 which I attended as RICS President when we secured RICS recognition in India the only external qualification to achieve such status in that country at that time. We therefore had a lot to talk about on the importance of the City of London and its achievements but in my mind the outcome that I will remember most is that of a former Lord Mayor of London, Sir William Purdie Treloar who in 1906 set up Treloar’s School so as to educate the disabled of London who up to then had just been abandoned on the streets. That is special, uplifting and significant, making a real difference in this very tough world. In the end i did not cry but I was laughing alongside some very special and incredibly brave but determined and special students.
Graham F. Chase Master