A new play area at Aycliffe School has been named in honour of a much-loved member of staff who died from cancer.

Staff and students had a vote to decide what to call the play area, and they unanimously chose ‘Sandra’s Park’ in memory of teaching assistant Sandra Smith.

Sandra, who was from the Silksworth area of Sunderland, gave 38 years of service to the charity before she sadly died in August last year.

The play area was officially opened by Sandra’s son, Ryan, in a ceremony attended members of her family, friends, colleagues and students.

Ryan said:

It’s a fantastic testament to the dedication and hard work she put into a job that she loved. The whole family is deeply touched.

Sandra’s husband of 25 years, Michael, is a senior support worker for NEAS and has worked for the charity for 27 years.

He said: “She was never one to be in the limelight, but she would have been blown away to know that this had been done in her memory.

It’s a beautiful way to remember her because it was always all about the children she looked after, and it’s wonderful to know that children will be having fun in Sandra’s Park for years to come.

NEAS chief executive, John Phillipson, told those at the opening ceremony: “This is a special day because Sandra was a very special person, and I’m not at all surprised that the vote was to name the play area after her.

“Sandra worked in a range of our services during her career before coming to Aycliffe School, and she was always there, always caring, always smiling. This is the perfect way to remember her.”

As well as helping to name the play area, students also had an input into its design, and a number of them – Luke, Mickie, Liam, Jonah, and Beau – contributed to a tribute to Sandra, which ended: “We all miss you and will never forget our memories with you. Thank you for being you and helping us become who we are today.”

The school’s principal, Kirsty Carr, added:

Sandra is remembered by her colleagues at Aycliffe School and Thornbeck College as strong, loyal and hard-working, but it was her infectious sense of humour that made the biggest impression on those who knew her.

The play area was created with the support of £10,000 donations by the Charles Sharland Trust, and the National Lottery Awards For All, while the William Webster Charitable Trust gave £3,000.

Mitsubishi Chemicals also donated £1,250, and office manager Jackie Brown, and sales manager, David Tindale, represented the company at the opening ceremony.

Jackie said: “We are close neighbours of the charity, and we know what an impact it has on the local community, so it was a privilege to be here.”

A further donation of £1,000 was made by Amazon’s Darlington Hub.

Baby Elliott Ferguson, grandson of Sandra’s best friend, Pauline Scullion, was the first to try out one of the new swings in the play area.

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