Walking towards Undershaw, it would be easy to pass the unobtrusive entrance to the historic site and former home of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. If you weren’t necessarily looking for it, the impressive buildings are almost hidden from view – a concept that resonates well with many of the students that they are working to develop and support there. The students in question, all have numerous talents and skills to offer but many have struggled in mainstream education and through the use of refined teaching styles and a modified curriculum, the school hopes to enable these students to excel in education and ultimately fulfil their potential.

The success of Stepping Stones School was the main catalyst for this development, as the growing demand for spaces outstretched their capacity, resulting in them having to turn children away. The former home of the creator of the ingenious Sherlock Holmes series is perfectly situated within walking distance of Stepping Stones School on Tower Road making it an ideal venue to expand. Undershaw will operate as a secondary school and their improved facilities will also be available to students based at Tower Road, enabling the two schools to work in conjunction with each other.

The hydrotherapy pool

Descending down the drive the residence came into view and you were greeted by music, laughter and a buzz of activity and anticipation. Making your way around the site you experienced Superman and Batman showing off their skills as they somersaulted around the children followed by a conversation with flowerpot men amongst a constant flow of canapés being distributed. Existing students gave endless tours of the school, where their obvious excitement for the new building shone through, along with their confident and engaging personalities that many had previously withheld. A range of activities took place to allow guests the opportunity to identify with the history of the building and what they hope to accomplish, where the performance hall was set up with circus activities for the children to try. Guests congregated outside the main entrance for the official opening speeches where the plaque was also revealed before gathering in the main hall as some of the children had the chance to take the stage.

Strong vocal performances from Jade, Izzy and Georgia kicked off proceedings before a comical rendition of Hound of the Baskervilles took over the stage. Bo, George and Benedikt captivated the audience with their fantastic interpretation of the Sherlock Holmes classic novel.

Following on from the performances by some of the school’s brightest stars, David Forbes-Nixon who’s Foundation was a primary supporter of Undershaw took to the stage. His involvement initially came when, like many, he too was searching for a suitable school for his son, Charlie and came across Stepping Stones School. Seeing the benefits to his son in both an educational and personal capacity was incentive enough to support this project and he gave his thanks to Larry Sullivan and Sandy Seagrove for starting this journey with Tower Road. His son Charlie joined him on stage to read through the following story:

Headteacher, Melissa Farnham was an important part of the long list of thank you’s that were received from the stage for the huge part that she has played in the development of the school, where her understanding of the students has also enabled them to flourish. Jeremy Hunt, MP for South West Surrey, had the honours of officially opening the school that was set to change a number of children’s lives for the better. After applauding the children on their superb performances he spoke about the importance of addressing issues surrounding disability so that they have the opportunity to overcome the struggles and challenges that they come up against.

An event that will be celebrated on an annual basis, for students, parents, teachers and supporters, it was a fitting end to the afternoon as the music and dancing commenced to celebrate the start of a new era for learning. We look forward to following the progress of the school and its students.