Community funds life skills facility for students with special needs

Near the border of Victoria and New South Wales is Belvoir Special School. Belvoir caters to students with a mild, moderate and profound intellectual disability, as well as physical disabilities and autism. There are over 180 students at Belvoir, since the school upgraded to a more modern facility in 2015. The curriculum is broad, including equipping children with essential skills for life after school.

The assistant principal, Ebony Mitchell, felt there was a piece of the puzzle missing; the students were finding it difficult to translate those skills beyond the classroom context they were taught in. Her solution: the Belvoir Life Skills House, a facility that resembled an actual house, with a living, dining and sleeping area, that would teach students in the most authentic way possible. The school reached out to the local community, including the Rotary Club. Four local rotary clubs jumped on the opportunity, and with an outpouring of support from local community groups, private donors and local businesses and tradespeople, the project was given the go ahead.

“We are so grateful for the assistance we’ve received from the local community. It’s been incredible,” says James Gay, Belvoir School Principal. “At this stage, apart from a couple of pieces of specialised equipment, we believe the cost of the house has been totally covered by donations of cash and support we’ve received from community members.”

Jack Fletcher from Fletcher Plumbing is one of those local community members. Jack’s dad started Fletcher Plumbing in 1985, and they were the plumbing supplier for the original build of the new Belvoir campus in 2015. When Jack heard about Life Skills House, his first instinct was to donate materials, but while he was in a Reece store he decided to apply for the Reece Grant.

Jack’s $15,000 Reece Grant has provided funding for important plumbing materials and fixtures. The team at Fletcher Plumbing, who already maintain the school and feel a connection to the kids there, all pulled together on a weekend to complete the rough-in. “They jumped straight on it, they were super keen — and they enjoyed doing it,” says Jack. “We had so many plumbers, we were done within the day.”

The house is now entering its final stages, with the waterproofing complete and the tiling under way. Trevor from the Wodonga Rotary Club has been the main manager of the project, and he has his fingers crossed for a Christmas-time ribbon-cutting. “The main thing has been the time,” says Trev. “It doesn’t cost anything but it’s [really] the most valuable thing people have donated.”