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Watch: 35 years on The Buddy Bear Trust continues to help children with cerebral palsy across province

"We want parents to know that we exist and that we are free to attend"

Just shy of 35 years ago, The Buddy Bear Trust was established, as the result of an uncanny meeting where a bewildered ex-education officer and now Chairman of The Buddy Bear Trust, Brendan McConville had been hoodwinked into attendance by a friend, who knowing how to dupe him, told him that he would be getting Tyrone tickets!

The real reason for the meeting that day was much more profound. Brendan’s help was required and the people who had gathered to meet with him that day, had faith in him as the man for the job.

A BBC documentary, aired at the time, had brought to public attention a little boy named Joe. Joe had Cerebral Palsy, but, thanks to Hungarian Professor András Pető and his development of ‘conductive education’ had shown great improvement in motor function and independence.

Concerned parents in Northern Ireland now flocked to the Education Authority and to their elected representatives asking for support for their children.

They wanted Conductive Education to be part of the education provision at home and so Brendan, established a cross-community committee and set the wheels in motion.

The Buddy Bear School is a Conductive Education centre in the truest sense. The four teachers, who are recognised by the General Teaching Council for Northern Ireland as qualified teachers, are also recognised as Conductors.

Each Conductor has come through an additional four years of training in the specialised András Petö Faculty in Budapest. They also have the support of two specially trained classroom assistants.

Today, the school has approximately 25 enrolled children across two school groups. The children travel province wide to attend, from Magherafelt to Lurgan.

Speaking to Tyrone I working Principal Ildiko Veres explained” “We have children from three months of age through to age 19. People often ask me what do we do with 3-month-old babies? But the sooner we start the better. It is not only about the child. We teach the parents.”

Parents need support too. They want to learn more about how to best support their children and we can help with that. We can provide each child with a programme based on their type of cerebral palsy, because there are many forms. We provide hands-on experience, so they now have the skills to provide the exercises and learning at home”.

Each day is very different in Buddy Bear School, but children are encouraged daily to actively participate in their own learning.

Ms Ildiko said: “The children come in in the morning and go straight into toilet training. This is not covered by other schools but is so important for their independence. Once we have done this, some of our children enjoy a sage bath.”

The sage bath is almost like a large cup of herbal tea, it is made with natural sage which is a muscle relaxant and means we can relax the children’s muscles to make them more supple in preparation for their exercises.

“We spend a lot of time with stretching, crawling, standing, sitting but we also follow the national curriculum for special needs. The two cannot be separated. We very much take a holistic approach to learning.

“Parents even have even been equipped with iPads to record exercises and activities to help them replicate these at home. It also means if the child is off sick, we can stay in touch with Zoom.

“Everything that we have here is a result of Brendan’s tireless fundraising. Without him the school would have been closed.

“We want to raise awareness for the school and let parents know that we are here and we are happy to help. If you have any questions or queries, please phone or email us and we can start the free assessment process as soon as possible.”

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