More Education, the charity behind Andover Small School and Koala Community Hub have today launched their fundraising and sponsorship programmes. Founded in 2019, the charity is now registered and will push on with ambitious plans to be the first autistic-led special school and community hub in the UK.
“It has been a lot of hard work” explains Tori, Head of Operations, “but we are already making a difference to autistic and neurodivergent people in our community, and we want to built upon that to develop a flagship charity that can push for real and sustainable change; in our local community and nationwide.”
The idea for the school came about first and hopes to open in September 2022. A site has been found and more information will be released once funding has been achieved. The school will be a registered special school, for young people who struggle in mainstream settings, and run by an autistic management team.
Mark Rist, Headteacher of the school, explains “Being run by autistic people means that we have a true understanding of how it feels to navigate the world with sensory and social communication issues. Being trained teachers, we knew that we could create a school that would seek to support these young people, whilst keeping the costs realistic. The Koala Community Hub is the icing on the cake and, once the school is fully operational, the school will fully fund the hub – creating a fully self-sustainable and unique solution for our local community, and possibly a blueprint to be replicated nationwide”. The Trustees are confident that their unique approach means that their fees can be kept low whilst not negotiating on quality. “We will operate at the cost of a Local authority maintained school; proving that there is a real and sustainable solution to the education and health crisis that our young autistic and neurodivergent people are facing. We already have communities from around the UK reaching out to find out how to make this happen for their area.”
Discussing the fundraising and sponsorship programmes, Andy Witcher, a More Education Trustee stated “the Trustees are delighted to be able to finally launch our fundraising initiatives. We have been promised £10,000 support from Stannah and our brilliant architect Jamie Robertson, from 7 Build Design, who is helping us realise our vision of the school. We are now keen to raise an ambitious amount of money so that we can push on and launch both projects fully”. Jamie, whose company have already sponsored More Education in excess of £15,000 said “small things coupled with big ideas make things happen, we want to support the school to create spaces for education and celebration of youth in the local community.”
Support from the community has been forthcoming and the Queen Charlotte pub has supported the team from the beginning. “Victoria and David have been absolute bedrocks of our projects, from allowing us to run our Neurodiverse Adults Group and fledging Koala groups from the pub for free, to hosting our first fundraising event on Sunday 26 th September ‘Flo’s Fun Day’. We will forever be in their debt for their support” explained Tori.
Also supporting the charity has been Sovereign Housing and Test Valley Borough Council who provided grants of £1000 and £2000 respectively to help launch the Koala Teens Group. The first Koala Teens group took place on 24th August and within 24 hours was fully booked for September. Other groups that Koala are already running are Toddlers, Kids (aimed at primary aged children), Young People not at School, Adults and Parent support. “We loved being at the Queen Charlotte and I felt really emotional leaving but we needed more space and the support and kindness that the Bridge have shown Koala has been outstanding –now we need to push for funding so that we can open the array of other groups, training and support that Koala can offer.” Explained Tori.
Fundraising efforts have already commenced, with local fundraiser Julie Stratton having approached the charity to run the Great South Run to raise funds “ This will be my 10th Great South Run and I always run for a local charity. I saw the Koala Community Hub and Andover Small School on Facebook, thought they did good work and wanted to help!” said Julie. Support was also given by Nidge’s Artisan Pizza Kitchen, who made More Education their chosen charity on their opening day in September.
The Koala Community Hub is already making great strides in supporting the local community. Local mum Lisa said “I’ve had more support from Koala than anywhere else. So fantastic that someone is actually interested and has the time to listen to you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Another parent, Sophie, said “Koala has really been a game changer for us. My daughter can’t go into any building; school, doctor’s, dentist, shops yet, she’s come to this group twice!! The way that you prepare the kids for each session is fantastic and really anxiety reducing. You get it, so well, you really do! Today, my girl took her brother into a shop! This group was a precursor to bigger things and she’s only been twice, so thank you, so much”.