Shepherds Down School is a special needs school in Compton which caters for around 130 children, aged four to 11 years.
A happy and successful school, it provides an appropriate curriculum and a learning environment for children, referred by the Local Authority, whose complex learning difficulties cannot be met within mainstream education. The school is spacious, well equipped and boasts excellent facilities set in attractive grounds. Areas of expertise include autism, profound and multiple learning difficulties, speech / language and communicating challenges.
Volunteers like Mark Jenkins are working to raise its profile through two-way engagement – assisting it to embrace the community and getting the community more involved by reaching out to the many people happy to do their piece of voluntary work in the school.
Mark explains how he became involved and what the growing pool of volunteers are doing.
“After 35 years in IT and telecoms I retired last January and wanted to put something back into the community. The place I spent years commuting from is very important to me as both my home and a thriving local community.
“Chairing Compton and Shawford Sports Club for a few years, I made additional voluntary work an important part of my transition plan into retirement, something I planned because moving from full-time work to retirement can be tricky.
“My wife retired at the same time as a consultant psychiatrist and was very supportive of the detailed plan. I wanted to work locally, within a five-mile radius, and began b talking to independent businesses, before members of the Parish Council suggest the school.
“Having spent a full day experiencing school life, I appreciated the contrast to mainstream schools; teachers and pupils have particular challenges. The school, however, is part of our village community, not merely buildings, teachers and parents.
“Children come from a wide area, bussed in or brought by taxis, therefore parents don’t get that school gate chat and everyday interactions. SDS does hold two annual fairs to bring families and locals onto the premises.”
Mark’s gone down the fundraising route, devoting time and effort to the Friends of Shepherds Down Association (FOSDA), which is similar to a PTA.
He’s drawn upon his sales and marketing background to approach businesses, organisations and individuals regarding fundraising and sought better deals from school suppliers, resulting in savings which can be passed on to bettering the children’s school experience.
A pool of local volunteers who could help with ground maintenance is another initiative, one which sae as full-time salary and appeals to those happy to devote a few hours, on a regular basis.
For pupils with disabilities, who face serious physical and mental challenges, some form of personal assistance may be required for the duration of their lives.
“We need help in classrooms, but it’s a specialised area, requiring, for example, not only highly qualified retired teachers, but also great empathy.
We need volunteers who are not afraid to rope people in. Approaching large organisations is paying off, with teams from corporates coming along to paint or help through organised team building day – and they want to return!
“Volunteering is not for life. I recognise that, as does he school, therefore it’s crucial to create a funnel of volunteers and apply their skills to various projects. That’s the rewarding part!
“I’m finding that – a year into active volunteering – others ask me what they could do along similar lines. That’s building bridges – and I’m delighted… I want to get as many people involved as possible.”