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Battle almost over for Beech Lodge School founders

‘It’s been a battle, but it’s been one worth fighting’.

For Daniela Shanly, the co-founder of Beech Lodge School, that battle is almost over.

It’s been more than five years since the school opened the doors of its original site in Honey Lane, Hurley.

But now the school is finally preparing to officially open its new, purpose-built campus in Stubbings, which includes classrooms, therapy rooms and even diners named after the builders who worked on the project.

It’s been a journey which has seen a whole new model devised for educating some of the most complex and vulnerable children in the country. And it was one which was almost derailed entirely when opponents launched a legal challenge against its plans for a new home.

But when the current crop of 28 pupils, a number which is now expected to rise to almost 50, head to their first official lessons at the site on Monday the team behind the school will be able to finally take stock of the tale which has taken them to this stage.

“It was five years ago in January that we opened the school, but the inspiration for it came from my son, Dom,” said Mrs Shanly, who is the wife of property developer Michael Shanly, of Shanly Homes fame.

“His needs weren’t able to be met in his mainstream school and we felt that we were able to set up a school for children like him, whose needs can’t be met in a mainstream setting.”

She teamed up with co-founder Emma Barklem, a therapist and fellow parent at the school, and headteacher Lucy Barnes, and found the original Honey Lane site.

Together, they set about creating a new type of school specifically for children unsuited to the conventions of mainstream education, who struggled particularly with traditional discipline and learning structures due to a range of emotional and psychological needs, often relating to time spent in care.

In 2014 it was rated Good in all areas by Ofsted inspectors, who praised its strong and innovative leadership.

Talking about her challenge to find an appropriate school for Dom, who is adopted, Mrs Shanly said: “It was incredibly difficult and that’s a whole story for another time.

“But I think that because I felt we have the money to be able to do it and I have the drive and the time to be able to do it that it would be wrong to not do something like this, to create a school where many children like ours could benefit.

“I knew there was a desperate need for a school with a much more empathetic approach. It’s been a battle, but it’s been one worth fighting.”

The ‘battle’ included a 2015 Government inquiry into the plans for the new campus, which were approved by the Royal Borough, after an appeal was lodged by  Bisham Parish Council and Burchetts Green Village Association.

It took more than six months for the final green light, which for the founders represented another vindication of their mission.

“Instinctively, we knew what we were doing, but we also knew we would have to test it to see if it would work,” said Mrs Shanly.

“There’s always an element of caution with something like this, but the proof has been in the bums on seats and the need [shown by parents].

“When we opened we were convinced we were doing the right thing and within the first year we had filled the building.”

Headteacher Mrs Barnes added: “We had stacks from parents about how much better family life was for them, that it wasn’t a daily battle just to get them to school anymore.

“Now they often don’t want to go home. It was like an awakening for them, being able to play with other children, access learning and feel pride in themselves.”

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