WRIGHT THINKING: Town’s hidden jewel

SPECIAL PLACE: Alan, centre, with staff member Tracy Lee and headteacher Alan Chapman
SPECIAL PLACE: Alan, centre, with staff member Tracy Lee and headteacher Alan Chapman

IT’S strange how life sometimes brings linked themes together.

 Just last week I was talking about some of the inspiring heights achieved by people with disabilities and, soon after, I saw a similar example five minutes from home.

 I had the pleasure of popping along to Catcote Road to visit the Catcote Business and Enterprise Special Needs School – and what an eye-opener it was.

 This thriving place is sandwiched between English Martyrs School and Summerhill and I must have passed it a thousand times but had little idea of what goes on inside.

 I’m a big believer in first impressions: the old music hall comedians used to say that you had under ten seconds to make a good (or bad) impression and I think the same applies to organisations.

 I spend a lot of time visiting new places, and my gut reaction is normally pretty good.

 At Catcote, from the first welcome to the cheery goodbye, the positive waves shone out. The school caters for a range of youngsters from about eleven to about nineteen, but is already working on a lifelong learning project involving students of older years.

 As you may have seen in your Hartlepool Mail recently, they are brilliant at involving the local community and businesses and believe in getting their pupils and students involved in the world around them.

 Some of their youngsters need close care and I remain lost in admiration at the professional skills of the teaching and support staff.

 A good friend in the hotel business says that his company always appoints on attitude and I think the same must be true of people working in the special needs 
sector. The personal situations of many of Catcote’s young people means that they can be very demanding, but I saw a myriad of examples of emotional, physical and intellectual challenges being met every minute I was there.

 One of the reasons for my visit was to look at a grant application for a new sensory room and it’s easy to see how this can help.

 A few months back, I had the pleasure of handing over a large Lord’s Taverners cheque to Percy Hedley School in Newcastle for a similar set-up there, and the effects of this great equipment is life-changing.

 It’s hard to describe a sensory room, but they have a wide range of uses.

 These lights and sounds can produce a haven of calm where it’s needed, and challenging stimulation when that’s what’s required.

 Staff at some schools say that they are so relaxing that they use them for a few minutes’ switch off for themselves at the end of a busy day.

 I know that Catcote already has a steady stream of visitors to learn about what they do, and it’s great to know that a Hartlepool facility has a world class reputation. Next time you are passing on Catcote Road, nod your head in salute to a very special hidden jewel of our town.