Excitement filled the air on Saturday when Hillingdon Manor School in Uxbridge, West London welcomed past and present staff, pupils and their families to a fundraising Summer Market Day celebration to mark its 20th Anniversary of providing specialist education and support to pupils with autism in Hillingdon and the surrounding areas. Raising over £600 for three charities – Anna Kennedy Online, HACS (Hillingdon Autistic Care & Support) and Dogs Trust – the event was a chance for all to celebrate and reflect on the successes and experiences gained at the school.
Run by Options Autism and part of Outcomes First Group, the school was founded in 1999 by leading autism campaigner and Options Autism Ambassador Anna Kennedy (OBE) after her personal struggle to find a school that could cater for the individual needs of her two sons, both of whom have autism spectrum conditions. Launched with 19 pupils, the school now teaches 180 children aged 3-19 and is the largest of its kind for children on the autism spectrum.
To mark the occasion, students had prepared a gallery of The History of Hillingdon Manor, charting the school’s development over two decades. Key milestones include a major expansion in size and provision in 2010/11, with the opening of its extensive Primary site at neighbouring Yiewsley Grange providing space for Forest Schools, an Early Years Foundation Stage department, Lego Therapy room and Food Tech kitchen. The Secondary site, The Manor, was also extended to include two science labs, a Food Tech kitchen, a Woodwork room, an Art room with a dark room and a Multi Skills room.
Further developments include the introduction of the Intensive Communication and Life Skills Department (ICLSD) which caters for pupils whose learning profile/development is more complex than others and focuses on communicating for purpose and making learning relevant to their everyday lives. One past pupil who returned to Hillingdon Manor for the celebrations was the first pupil in the ICLSD department who learned to independently travel to and from Stonebridge Park to school every day – and he was never late! He now works in Great Ormond Street Hospital within their catering department.
Many other past pupils and their families attended the celebrations, with staff commenting on feeling “overwhelmed and moved” to hear what they are up to now – for example one is at University studying Accountancy, another is studying Politics and History, one is in Independent Living and another is working as a Head Chef in a Hotel. Past staff spoke about how Hillingdon Manor holds a special place for them, some having gained their teaching or therapy qualification whilst working there.
Students had created an array of exciting products to sell at the event, while staff ran stalls with fun activities for students and their families. Entertainment was provided by the school’s Student Band and by Autism With Attitude, the history-making dance troupe formed in 2013 at Hillingdon Manor which went on to achieve international success – a testimony to the outstanding outcomes achieved by the school that places personalised support at its heart.
Commenting on the celebrations, Executive Head Ciaran Walsh said, “This wonderful event brought everybody together – staff, families and pupils, past and present – who have helped make Hillingdon Manor School (HMS) the success it is today. Our staff go above and beyond – it is not just a job for any one of them; every day the team work to overcome challenges for the pupils.
The families of our pupils are fantastic and have continued to support the school’s vision to help our students fulfil their true potential and continue their progression outside of the school. They spoke so highly and lovingly of HMS and the difference we made to their lives. And of course the pupils themselves are the reason we have success everyday: each and every one of them brings something special to HMS, with their personalities and their talents!”
One parent said, “Receiving the invite to join the celebrations was warming and it feels like coming home.”