'Some of the children who are not comfortable in the classroom are now coming up to the camera'

In recent weeks, schools and private tutors were quick to move their academic classes online, but what about those offering extra-curricular activities?

The West London Performing Arts Academy is a charity based in Ealing, co-founded by Michelle Welch, Shanti Babrah and June Billham. They’ve had a challenging, but incredibly rewarding month.

Set up in 2012, the charity provides an “enriched inclusive learning environment that helps students of all ages overcome their shyness whilst working on confidence building and self-esteem.” Those values have kept the organisation running, and more importantly thriving, since the outbreak of the Coronavirus crisis.

“We cater for children with special educational needs, from autism to verbal delay, downs syndrome, to children who have struggled in mainstream school on the academic side,” Michelle said. “On the performing arts side we cater for all works of life, every ethnicity, every religion all coming together. It’s a beautiful and inclusive environment.

“All our performing arts classes have moved online. We did that extremely quickly. In the first couple of days of the outbreak we had our academic classes running online, by the end of the first week we had implemented a plan to continue our performing arts.

“Everyone’s looking at the arts now, suddenly it’s the one thing that keeps our mind and well-being in check. It’s also the continuity for the students, seeing us all and knowing we haven’t abandoned them and they know we’re there.”

June added: “Some of the children who are not comfortable in the classroom setting are coming up to the camera. We’re wondering ‘what are you doing, you don’t do that in class!’ They’ve found another strength through this. It’s unique. We can now ask, does this child work better this way and it gives us something to think about in the future.”

So, rather than being restricted by the lock down, it appears the organisation are connecting with their students in new and captivating ways. The feedback from parents has been really positive too.

“It’s an absolute joy to see the children and the positive impact we’ve had on their lives as well as their families,” Shanti said. “We hear from parents where we really have made a difference to their lives, that’s what it’s all about.

“It’s about making the children feel they can do anything. A lot of the kids have suffered trauma and their self-worth is on the floor, we’ve had kids that wouldn’t even give us eye contact. To be able to build that and see them blossom, that’s the driving factor.”

June added: “We’ve overcome lots of adversity and challenges. We’ve got some fantastic stories; we’ve got a boy who has relocated from South Africa. He has autism and he is 18, wouldn’t travel on his own or come up the stairs on his own.

“[Until the lock down] he travelled all the way from Green Park, he'd come in and tell us his stories, who he had met on the way on the London Underground. He’s just amazing, they all are. There’s nothing more than pure joy to see what they achieve.”

The team are also running an online talent competition where students can send in a one-minute video of their talent with a chance of winning a £100 Amazon voucher. The deadline has been extended to May 30th, and the judges are after “enthusiasm, passion and expression!”

If you think you’ve got what it takes to enter, please check out the Facebook page (click here) for more details.

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