London Stock Exchange welcomes Prior's Court

London Stock Exchange welcomes Prior's Court

Prior's Court School is an exceptional school for children with autism and is one of the most advanced of its kind in the world.

It was inspired by a visit Dame Stephanie made to the Higashi School in Boston in the USA in 1997. Based on Daily Life Therapy, a Japanese philosophy which views physical education as an essential bridge to learning and social development, the school was achieving impressive results. On her return to England Dame Stephanie discovered that neither the educational authorities nor any charity was prepared to establish such a school in the UK, so she resolved to undertake that task herself and to create a 'beacon' school for children with autism.

The result was Prior's Court School, near Newbury in Berkshire, acquired and funded with a £15m donation from The Shirley Foundation in 1998. The original building was extensively refurbished, new purpose-built classrooms and accommodation added, and specialist staff hired and trained. The first pupils arrived in September 1999 and the school was officially opened by The Princess Royal on 23 May 2000.

The school opened with 2 pupils and now has over 60 pupils from 5 – 23 years. The school has developed the 'Prior Approach' (based on the best of Daily Life Therapy, TEACCH and other autism therapies and best practice) to meet the very special educational, care and medical needs of its pupils. It has the latest technological equipment, and magnificent facilities to teach the children art, music and sport, communication and social skills as well as life skills such as domestic science, horticulture and animal husbandry.

An Adult Learning Centre and residential provision for 20 students opened in September 2011. This was deemed necessary due to the disappointing statistic that only 16% of young people with autism will ever hold down a job. Providing this extended facility helps the young peoples' families too – 80% of marriages with an autistic child in the family break down. Priors Court decided to try and change the outcomes for our young people and find a way to offer them real skills to enable them to hold down a real job. And that is how the Prior's Court Bakery Project came into being.

Priors Court is Opening the Market today because we want to open up a whole range of opportunities to young adults with autism. This is our most ambitious project ever!

80% of young people at Prior's Court are non-verbal. Most experience high levels of anxiety. Many have previously been taught in isolation. All have enormous difficulty coping with the world around them. The pressure on their families has been likened to that of combat stress.

Why the Bakery?

We want to create a team of bakers with real skills creating bread and other products that people want to buy because it tastes, smells and looks great. We want to be a name on everyone's lips, known as ground-breaking for the extraordinary story of our bakers and our bread on the shelves in national supermarkets. In doing this we will be changing perceptions about severe autism as well as aspirations for future autism employment.

We've started the journey – Our young people respond positively to practical, routine tasks and we know that they find baking and food preparation motivating and rewarding. We have expert advice from Steve Fudge (who recently sold his business Thomas J Fudge's) and will employ a Master Baker to ensure the Bakery is set up as a self-sustaining and professional enterprise.

Today, we are setting out to raise £350,000 to make our Bakery a reality.