Jill's Story

My name is Jill Cleveley and I am Mum to 3 daughters; Beth who is 18, Georgi who is 20 and my eldest daughter Charlotte who is 22 and has Learning Difficulties and no speech.

Charlotte is an extremely happy young lady who thrives on being sociable and seems to laugh all day long (even when it may be inappropriate) Charlotte attended Severndale Nursery at the age of 2 ½ and left Severndale School 3 years ago when she was 20 years old. In that time, Charlotte met some wonderful teachers and teaching assistants.

When Charlotte reached the age of 14, I can vividly remember the feeling of uncertainty. All we had all known was Severndale and I couldn’t imagine Charlotte ever going anywhere else!! I started researching all of Charlotte’s options for further education and life after Severndale School but in February 2009, when Charlotte was 15 years old, we started noticing that Charlotte was acting differently and noticed that she didn’t really seem herself. After 15 months of visits to many professionals, Charlotte was diagnosed with a brain tumour in May 2010. Although we knew that something was very wrong, we really were not ready for this news!! 5 days after diagnosis, Charlotte underwent a 12 hour operation to have the tumour removed, which was successful and Charlotte spent the next few weeks recovering. After the operation, Charlotte had a couple of complications which meant that she had difficulty swallowing thin fluids and now has to have her fluids thickened. Throughout this whole period of time, Charlotte was amazingly happy.

Whilst Charlotte was poorly, we seemed to put Charlotte’s future plans on hold and although we had a couple of ideas where we felt Charlotte would be happy in further education, we were not certain.

When Charlotte had recovered, we visited Condover College which is only down the road from where we live and we were fairly sure that this option would be great for Charlotte, however when we visited, although the staff seemed lovely, it didn’t seem quite right for Charlotte. It was small and quiet and Charlotte really thrives with lots of people around her. We then visited Derwen College and really did fall in love with it. As soon as we drove on to the campus, It seemed to have a lovely feel. All the students were milling around independently and they all seemed happy and the staff all seemed extremely friendly. We were shown the living accommodation where Charlotte could stay for 37 weeks of the year and we were really daunted to find out that there would only be one member of staff in the accommodation overnight and Charlotte would have to pull a cord to wake them up. Needless to say, we were extremely concerned that Charlotte may not be able to cope!!

After looking after Charlotte for many years, we couldn’t posibly imagine how anyone else could provide for Charlotte, understand her needs etc especially after her illness. She was so vulnerable in so many ways and wejust wanted to protect her. We have always said that we wanted Charlotte to be as independent as possible and attending Derwen seemed to be the best opportunity for Charlotte, although it was the proving to be the hardest decision we have ever made.

Once we had made the decision that Derwen was the right choice for Charlotte, Severndale made several trips to Derwen with Charlotte so that she could get to know the campus and the staff. We had lots of contact with Derwen staff and met with the college nurses, physiotherapists and speech therapists to discuss Charlotte’s needs. The difficulty with the process, was that although we wanted Charlotte to attend Derwen college, we still needed to get the funding agreed from Social Care and Education. This process took many months which increased our anxiety as we couldn’t help Charlotte plan until the funding was agreed.

When it came to the day for Charlotte to start Derwen, we packed her cases in the car and took lots of pictures and photos for her new bedroom. Charlotte was really excited and although we knew it was the right choice, it didn’t feel right knowing that we were going to drop her off for someone else to look after her. We spent some time meeting all of the support staff in her house and some of her new house mates (there were 12 girls sharing in her house). We unpacked her bags with her and decorated her bedroom with her belongings and then the time came ……….. we had to say our goodbyes!! The photo shows how excited Charlotte was to be staying there, thankfully there are no photos to show how we were feeling!!! It was the quietist drive home ever!!!

After a few months, we were able to drive away from Derwen without any tears and suddenly came to realize that it was us that were upset about leaving Charlotte at Derwen and Charlotte herself was having an absolute ball with her friends and wasn’t upset at all!!!

Charlotte is now in her 3rd and final year at Derwen and we are awaiting a decision from Adult Social Care as to whether Charlotte can stay at Derwen for a futher 2 years on a Living & Working Programme where she will be able to continue to learn independent living skills and also continue her work experience in a local supermarket.

The one thing that we have learnt, is to never presume that Charlotte cant do something and instead always presume that she can – if the right support is found, Charlotte is much more capable than we thought. She has absolutely thrived at the college, has made friends of her own age, has become much more independent and has a social life of her own (just like her two sisters). She goes to the disco twice a week, goes bowling with her friends and has many many outings and really enjoys her work experience in a local supermarket.

All of the staff have been fantastic and have been able to manage all of Charlotte’s needs. They have always contacted us with any queries but the main thing is that we have always had confidence that all of the staff are able to support Charlotte.

Charlotte will need support for the rest of her life but we believe that her time at Derwen is equipping her with all of the skills needed to be as independent as possible in her future life. There is no doubt that the decision to let Charlotte go to Derwen was extremely difficult, but 3 years down the line, when we look at how much more independent Charlotte is, we are absolutely certain that this was the right decision.

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