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Gibraltar’s first independent Special Educational Needs support facility announced

Gibraltar’s first independent Special Educational Needs (SEN) support facility hopes to open later this year at the old St Martin’s School building, new charity ‘PossAbilities’ has announced.

PossAbilities Director Nicole Stewart told the Chronicle her team have worked for months with the Gibraltar Government and aim for the facility to open its doors as early as summer 2022, with plans to recruit seven employees.

The plan for the old St Martin’s School building is a major project. PossAbilities will be open seven days a week all year round, there will be a 24/7 crisis hotline and core services will include access to state-of-the-art SEN facilities in the form of ‘all age’ soft playrooms.

The Government said PossAbilities will complement the work of Government Departments and Agencies much as Clubhouse Gibraltar and Cancer Relief, who also receive grants and work closely with Government in other areas of care.

Other planned facilities for the old St Martin’s building will include an adapted fitness centre, games and leisure room, interactive sensory room, life skills and home economics centre, relaxation room, family resource facility, sensory and equipment library, pet corner, a newly refurbished secure outdoor play area, horticultural spot, chill-out lounge and presentation and workshop facilities.

Underpinning this major project will be the work of experienced individuals and professionals from PossAbilities, which includes parents of those with SEN.

Ms Stewart is also a parent of a SEN child, and was formerly at the helm of the Little Smiles charity, a charity run by parents and carers of children attending St Martins Special School.

She will now transition from her role at Little Smiles to leading PossAbilities.

The team will be working in collaboration and closely guided by local, UK and other European experts to ensure delivery of the most professional services.

To support the new project, PossAbilities said they will carry out fundraising initiatives and service users will be required to sign up as members and pay a modest monthly membership fee in order to access and book the various provisions.

The charity added that consideration will be given to those in extenuating circumstances, and the facilities will be available to all individuals (and their immediate families), who are pending or in receipt of a SEN diagnosis, likewise through a professional referral.

The aim of the charity is to fill a gap in SEN services that families feel is currently missing.

“When people mention a gap in provision, it’s important to note that a gap is a bespoke and a very personal definition because a gap for perhaps my family may not be a gap for yours,” Ms Stewart said.

“PossAbilities aims to cater for all SEN needs whatever the gap may be.”

Ms Stewart added PossAbilities is not a daycare service, the charity will be providing resources SEN families and professionals need for intervention and constructive progression.

This includes early intervention support, pre and post diagnostic support for families, an information library, provision of seminars and workshops by expert professionals, age and peer-appropriate facilitated support groups, after school clubs and further educational classes and supported employment training initiatives.

Registered members will be able to access a structured schedule of these amenities by booking the facilities through an array of accessible methods including online or at the premises.

PossAbilities will also host an on-site cafeteria and kiosk that will be open to the public which will foster relations with the community while also creating further supported employment opportunities and training initiatives.

PossAbilities will also have a team to manage the day-to-day running of the facility and these positions will include those of a Project Manager, Personal trainer and Sports Coordinator plus further front of house staff.

Positions will be opened to members of the public who wish to apply, including creating suitable employment opportunities for SEN parents/guardians and supported employment positions.

The Governor of Gibraltar, Sir David Steel, will be the charity’s Patron and the charity has worked closely with the Government of Gibraltar.

They thanked the Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, the Minister for Education Dr John Cortes and the Minister for Health and Care Samantha Sacramento, for their unwavering support.

The Gibraltar Government said it has invested heavily in providing for special needs children and described how this is one of many initiatives in recent years, including the opening a Special Needs and Disability co-ordination office at No 6 Convent Place.

Regarding this project, the Government said it worked closely with the Little Smiles Charity and called the collaboration highly successful.

The Government added it continues to be in discussion with other NGOs, including the Special Needs Action Group (SNAG), in exploring further ways in which to support special needs provision throughout the community.

“I am very excited with this new project," Ms Sacramento said.

“I have been meeting with PossAbilities Director’s Nicole Stewart and Hannah Pilcher over the last few months, and they in turn have been working closely with the CEO of the Care Agency and the Head of the Ministry for Equality who have been providing support so that the introduction of this new initiative is successful and is complementary to those services that already exist.”

“The energy and enthusiasm with which this project was presented to us and the collaboration that we have had means that we look forward to another development in the enhancement of facilities available to those with learning disabilities.”

Works will shortly commence on the new site and until then progress and key dates will be announced on an accessible website once launched and via all encompassing communication lines. In the run up to this, all queries are welcomed at info@possabilities-gib.com.

GIBRALTAR DISABILITY SOCIETY

The Gibraltar Disability Society has welcomed the creation of PossAbililities and its collaboration with the Government.

The Society said the news that the old St Martin’s School will be used for such a worthwhile project can only be seen as a positive move.

“It is heartening to know that this large central area will be utilized for the good of the SEN community rather than for profit,” the Soceity said.

“Numerous marvellous facilities have been announced; all mentioned in PossAbilities first press release, including the promise of some supported employment opportunities. One of the most welcome will be the introduction of a ‘crisis’ hotline for SEN individuals and families.”

“Living with a disability or a disabled family member is unique in every case but, it needs to be said honestly, crisis can be a common thread in many of those families.”

The Disability Society said it has worked closely with Ms Stewart and looks forward to continuing this close working relationship.

“We wish her and all future staff every success in their amazing endeavour.”

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