IT’S been delayed by the pandemic, Brexit, interruptions to supplies, and Ofsted registration ... but we are finally on the brink of opening Kiora Hall to pupils for the first time.

I was there with senior managers from Stockton Council recently and it looked fantastic – freshly decorated and set in lovely grounds. They loved it and are excited about children starting there in the new academic year.

We’re expecting to open with 18 pupils, going up to 21 by half term and potentially 30 by Christmas. That’s quicker than originally planned, which is great for the Society.

The other thing I’m really pleased about is that people in the neighbourhood are excited about it opening too. It’s always been a special building in their area since it was built in 1902 and they’re already planning things they can do in the community rooms on the site.

We met the Big Local community group this week to see how best we can work with them to use the facilities, which include a sports hall. We really want to be part of the community and be seen as an essential part of what goes on in Roseworth and Stockton more generally.

Which is why it’s great that a lot of the staff we’ve appointed are locals. It’s really good that we’re reaching into Teesside not only to provide services but to provide jobs.

The management team and staff have been appointed for some time. We’ve had them in other schools and the college, working alongside some of the best people in the business for a couple of terms.

So they’ve got invaluable experience in supporting autistic and neurodivergent children. Some of the children we’ve been assessing have very complex needs. That’s our specialism – a lot of other providers would struggle with the challenges.

We’re looking forward to getting to know them and learning as much as possible about them so we can best support their particular needs.

Kiora Hall in numbers
  • Built in 1902 and has been a family home, an army gun battery and a prisoner of war camp
  • Cost £1.5m to renovate
  • 30 pupils by Christmas
  • 35 staff, including six teachers and 25 teaching assistants
  • 12 classrooms, plus a kitchen, computer room and sports hall
  • Fourth school for NEAS

Meanwhile we've been carrying out work at our three other schools before the start of term.

Thornhill Park School in Sunderland (above) has had its central courtyard transformed and tarmacked – that was some job! It also has a new car park for staff and new play equipment for pupils.

Mackenzie Thorpe Centre in South Bank has also got new equipment while the mound has been transformed at Aycliffe school, with a membrane seal and turf wrapped round it and a slide going in.

We can't wait to see the look on our pupils' faces when they come back and see their lovely new play equipment. It's been a busy summer ahead of what promises to be an exciting new year for all our schools.

Read more about Kiora Hall