Spotlight on Percy Hedley – Helen Jones


We’re delighted Helen Jones has shared her very special connection with the fundraising we’re doing this term for The Percy Hedley Foundation.

I first heard of Percy Hedley School during my training as an Occupational Therapist (OT) at Newcastle Polytechnic. This was in 1980-83 and this was a particularly good intake as I shared it with a certain Terry Dunsford (Sop 1)! The tales of student days are for an entirely different blog, aren’t they Terry? 😊 Who knew that years later, and once our working lives were over, we would find each other’s friendship again singing together in Sing United!

As a student I visited Percy Hedley School in Forest Hall and marvelled at the way the teachers and therapists worked alongside each other with such fun and enthusiasm to help the children achieve the very best they could. It struck me as a place it would be a true privilege to work in, and I was so delighted to join the team in 1990.

Over the years I worked there as an OT the school grew and became the Percy Hedley Foundation, covering several geographical sites in the area, helping both young children and adults with a variety of disabilities. Quite some development from the relatively small site at Forest Hall where it had been set up in the 1950’s by a group of parents who couldn’t find an appropriate provision for their children who had cerebral Palsy.

It is difficult to sum up the work carried out in a short piece like this but I will tell you about one young girl I worked with at the school to show the ethos and approach taken there (this is also a story that aptly involves the power of music).

Anna (for the purpose of this blog but not her real name) had attended Percy Hedley School since being 5 and was now a teenager. She had limited communication and sensory abilities and relied on her parents and carers to help her with everyday activities and to keep her safe. Her mum was particularly keen that she was as independent in her personal care as she could be before she left school. Anna struggled to cope with remembering the sequences of tasks, things like what order to get dressed, how to brush her teeth etc – activities of daily living that most of us take for granted. One day in the corridor I happened to pass Anna in her music lesson and was stopped in my tracks! Despite struggling to count to 10 and name the days of the week she was singing an Adele song (Make You Feel My Love) word and pitch perfect, accompanied by the music teacher playing the piano. I will never forget it.

I had been aware that she loved singing and music generally but hadn’t realised what a talent she had. How about we harness this talent and use it to help Anna achieve some of the things she had always found so challenging? Wind the clock on a few weeks and after the music teacher and I had talked about doing some simple song writing with Anna, got the Speech and Language Therapist to work on some basic vocabulary and the class teacher to help her write the words out on the computer – Anna cut her own CD “Anna’s Shower Song”! By learning the words Anna became able to carry out the actions as she sang along to her song which broke down each step of the process of showering from beginning to end… and her mum was delighted to report that as well as now remembering what to do in the shower as she sang her song, whenever any family member went to use the shower Anna insisted they sing her shower song as well! Her ABILITIES had been used to help her achieve her very best and her self-esteem and confidence visibly grew.

The point of the story is the very special thing about Percy Hedley School. The teachers, therapists, parents and carers work TOGETHER with the students in a truly integrated way to make learning “joined up”, fun and meaningful.

Mission statements can be a bit trite sometimes I feel but the Percy Hedley Foundation’s vision is to inspire, believe and achieve and after almost 30 years of having the privilege of working there I can say there wasn’t a day went by that I didn’t witness this in action.

It goes without saying that when Mark announced Sing United would be supporting the Percy Hedley Foundation this term, I was one proud singer 😊

Wow! Thank you so much Helen for sharing your personal connection to our fundraising with us. It’s amazing to hear that the money we raise will help such a fantastic organisation achieve even greater things.

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