A national charity dedicated to providing creative, happy and secure environments for children and young people with complex and severe learning disabilities, the Seashell Trust has won the AAC of the Year Award at the UK-wide 2019 Shine a Light Awards.

Organised by learning company Pearson, in partnership with The Communication Trust, the Shine a Light Awards, which took place at Pearson’s headquarters in London, celebrate innovative work and excellent practice in supporting children and young people’s speech, language and communication development.

They also recognise the hard work and determination of children and young people who have some form of long-term and persistent speech, language and communication needs (SLCN).

The awards were hosted by British comic actress and writer Sally Phillips, whose eldest son, Olly, was born with Down’s Syndrome and was the inspiration for her acclaimed documentary ‘A World Without Down’s Syndrome?’

The Seashell Trust provides support to 120 children and young people with complex communication needs through its non-maintained special school, independent specialist college and residential homes.

The Trust’s mission is to ensure all students have a voice and receive the best technical and personal support possible, with recent results revealing that 72 percent of pupils in the school and 92 percent in college achieved their AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) related communication targets.

All students access personalised AAC systems to support their language skills and many have their own work station with visual support. Whether students live at home or on site, their wellbeing is extremely important to staff. Students often have a portable version of their AAC for when they are accessing the community and specialist training is provided to parents and carers for supporting students in their home environment.

In total, 11 winners across 12 categories were recognised for their incredible contributions across the UK with one also receiving the Pearson Outstanding Achievement of the Year Award. In addition, ten finalists received Highly Commended accolades.

Kate Duggan, Speech and Language Therapy Lead and Lead for therapy outreach from The Seashell Trust, said: “We’re thrilled to be awarded the AAC award. Our staff work hard helping to develop the communication skills of children and young adults with complex and severe learning disabilities and communication needs.

“We’re dedicated to making sure that those we work with have the best possible opportunities for successful communication, the most rewarding thing is seeing how those we work with develop – but it’s brilliant that we’re being recognised by Pearson and The Communication Trust.

“We’re always working on new and innovative ways to help improve the communication of those that we work with, this award paired with the fantastic results that our pupils achieve when it comes to AAC shows that our forward thinking way of doing things is certainly working.”

Sally Phillips, Host of the 2019 Shine a Light Awards, said: “The Seashell Trust provides fantastic communication provision for their students. As a nation, it is vital that we ensure that all children have the opportunity to express themselves, particularly when this ability has a profound impact on our future life chances.

“The amazing winners and highly commended finalists of the Shine a Light Awards prove what a difference we can make if we become informed, impassioned and engaged in the speech language and communication needs of those around us.

“The Seashell Trust isn’t just changing the lives of those in their community but also across the UK. I have seen for myself the huge difference expert intervention and support provides for children, like my son, Olly, particularly at a time where we face a nationwide shortage of speech and language therapists.”

Sally was joined by Britain’s Got Talent Winner, Lee Ridley (known as Lost Voice Guy) who performed at the ceremony. Lee has cerebral palsy and uses AAC, via voice software on his iPad, to communicate and express himself.

Lee, who performed at the 2019 Shine a Light Awards, said: “I may not be able to speak but I most certainly have a voice. I know first-hand that with support, determination and a sense of humour you can achieve what others may think is impossible.

“I was thrilled to perform at the 2019 Shine a Light Awards and to meet inspirational settings like The Seashell Trust who like me don’t let their disabilities or challenges rule their students lives or define them.

“We take for granted in this country our ability to talk and express ourselves but for many it’s not easy. With different strategies, technology and support available, children and young people can realise their dreams. It is heart-warming to know there are so many teams and individuals across the country that are dedicated to ensuring children and young people’s voices are heard. I am thrilled The Seashell Trust was recognised at the awards.”

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