Broadcaster Judi Spiers, two-star Michelin Chef Michael Caines MBE and Business Consultant Chris Lorimer were welcomed by staff at WESC Foundation, a school and college for young people and adults with visual impairment. The three newly appointed Ambassadors for WESC Foundation came together for the first time, with an official tour of the charity’s facilities to learn more about the services they provide.
The Ambassadors took the time to interact with the learners in their different classroom environments and viewed all the facilities at WESC’s 14 acre campus. This includes a hydrotherapy pool, radio station, studio, sensory room and garden, music room, as well as multiple sports grounds.
Mark Braithwaite – Director of Education and Development, WESC Foundation said: “We are a local charity helping to transform the lives of young people and adults with visual impairment, across the South West and beyond. There are 82 learners and more than 200 staff on the 14 acre campus based in Topsham Road, Exeter; yet very few people are aware how large the site is and what amazing facilities we provide. We are delighted to have Judi, Michael and Chris, three highly distinguished and prominent members of the community who are from very diverse industry sectors, as our first ambassadors for the charity. Each of them bring their own individual style and support; and as a whole share a passion and commitment to helping raise the profile of WESC. Giving them a tour of the facilities to meet the learners and staff and the exceptional facilities we provide, we felt was a good introduction to how we can all work together.”
For the first part of the tour, the Ambassadors visited the ‘Family Assessment Centre’, where all families and learners are first met and assessed to discover their individual needs. In addition, it also helps WESC to develop an initial and bespoke education and care plan. Mark Braithwaite comments: “It was here that the ambassadors learnt of the real need for a centre such as WESC, and what a difference it can make not just to the learners, but to the families as well”.
Since Judi Spiers’ appointment as the charity’s first official Ambassador in spring 2015, she has taken on a very proactive role, including compring the recent WESC fashion show held in the autumn at the Met Office. Part of the tour included the charity’s own VI Radio with two WESC learner presenters interviewing Judi Spiers, asking for top tips for being a successful radio presenter. Radio is fully accessible to the visually impaired, and the station is very popular amongst the learners who tune in daily. All of the studio equipment is specially adapted for the students, with speaking computers, in-ear prompts for presenters, and large screen font.
Judi said: “If you thought you knew what visual impairment meant, I would urge you to visit WESC and see the challenges the youngsters face on a daily basis and just what they can do and achieve with the outstanding care and devotion they receive.” She adds: “See the world through their eyes.”
Michelin Star Chef Michael Caines was particulary made to feel at home by the learners in the training kitchen where all equipment is specially adapted, including speaking scales and wheel-chair accessible hobs. The learners demonstrated making peppermint creams and chocolate chip cookies, and offered each of the Ambassadors a pre-prepared tuna wrap in individually hand-made lunch boxes decorated with glitter. They were particularly excited to showcase their culinary delights to well-known celebrity Chef Michael Caines.
Michael Caines comments: “It’s a specialist school, and has an important role to play supporting children and their families with sight and hearing difficulties. They provide relief to the families and safe haven for the children to go to. Not only does the school help the children, they help them go into adulthood, and from there be able to get jobs in the future. You can’t help but be moved by what you see and how the staff are able to interact with these children.”
WESC Foundation has excellent links with a number of external providers giving learners work experience opportunities in a number of commercial businesses. WESC Ambassador Chris Lorimer has many years of experience working in commercial banking and further education as Deputy Principal, Bicton College, and Director of Marketing and External Relations, Exeter College.
Reflecting on the tour he said: “It was wonderful to see firsthand the great work that WESC is doing and experience the commitment from the staff, which is second to none. It reaffirms my view that WESC fulfills a really important role nationally – I am so proud to be an ambassador”.