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  • Writer's pictureLove Ballymena

Ballymena pupils help Oscar winner raise awareness of school’s play plight

James Martin (centre) is joined by Harberton Special School pupils (L-R) Mary Musa, Ormeau Road, Belfast, twins Tyler and Cody Pratchett from Ballymena and Lucas Wicklow from Finaghy, Belfast.


Harberton Special School’s plight to raise £100K for two new playgrounds has been backed by Oscar winning ex-pupil, James Martin, from south Belfast, who was the first person with Downs Syndrome to win an Academy Award.

 

Harberton Special School has a north and south Belfast campus, and a playground is needed for each site, explained principal, James Curran MBE. He said:



“Our pupils have a wide range of learning needs, and many have medical conditions that impact every aspect of their day, so a playground isn’t just about getting exercise and having fun. For a child with very complicated needs, the opportunity to get outside in a safe and supervised space is built into their daily routines, often as a reward system and used as an incentive for learning. So not having a playground for these pupils is hugely damaging to their development.


James Martin (right) is joined by the principal of Harberton Special School, James Curran.

James Martin (right) is joined by the principal of Harberton Special School, James Curran.


"In fact, a safe, working playground is as important to me as the teachers and classroom assistants or any other resource in the school, that’s how vital it is.

 

“Time in our playground allows children to regulate their emotions and senses in a way that being in a classroom can’t. That means they’re more settled and calmer for their families when they get home as they will have been stimulated in a way that lessens frustration. So it is vital for our parents as well as the pupils that we have a place for them to play.”

 



The playground in the south Belfast campus has completely deteriorated and has been closed.

 

“When I informed the Education Authority about the state of the playground and pleaded with them to have it repaired,” continued James.“Their advice was to close it off as there was no money for maintenance. I was dumbfounded at the response to be honest, at the coldness of the comments and the total lack of empathy.

 

“The story isn’t any better at our north Belfast campus where our pupils range in age from 4 to 17 years old. We’re located on the former Castle High School site and when we moved in we had a tarmacked space which we added equipment to over the years but the pupils and young adults deserve better”, said James.



James Martin (back right) is joined by Harberton Special School principal, James Curran and pupils (L-R) twins Tyler and Cody Pratchett from Ballymena, Mary Musa, Ormeau Road, Belfast, and Lucas Wicklow from Finaghy, Belfast.

James Martin (back right) is joined by Harberton Special School principal, James Curran and pupils (L-R) twins Tyler and Cody Pratchett from Ballymena, Mary Musa, Ormeau Road, Belfast, and Lucas Wicklow from Finaghy, Belfast.


The school principal has exhausted avenues of potential funding. “With funding in Education at an all time low, what our school campuses need cannot be provided via Stormont, the Department of Education or the Education Authority sowe - the school, its pupils and parents - are taking up the challenge ourselves.

 

“The lack of government here is quite frankly, an embarrassment. Chronic underfunding is the issue and I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel which means the most vulnerable people in our society will continue to suffer.

 



“We are planning to hold some events later in the year to raise funds, some really great things to come. We already know that if people are able to help us that they will, I just wish we weren’t in the position that we had to ask as life is tough enough for everyone right now,” concluded James.

 

Harberton Special School ex-pupil, James Martin, said:


“I loved my time at the school, it helped me become the man I am today. A playground is a basic need for a child so I hope I can help raise awareness of Haberton’s plight and get word out there. Who knows, maybe we could even help the next Oscar winner on their way to success.”

 

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