Salvation Army summer school for people with special needs celebrates 40th anniversary

published on 24 Jul 2015

The Salvation Army’s SAFE School of Arts is celebrating 40 years of supporting people with special needs.

From 25th July to the 1st August over 80 delegates and assistants from across the United Kingdom will attend the Christian summer school at the National Star College in Cheltenham. The week offers workshops in music, drama, dance, craft and sport and ends with a final festival of worship for friends and family, showcasing what the school has achieved together throughout the week.

Mandy Lanceley, 44, went to watch the final festival back in 2003. “I have scoliosis, curvature of the spine, quite severe, double curve. And I had body braces from the age of two, plaster casts, I was strapped into traction for four years and then I had major surgery when I was 14.

“So when I went to the SAFE festival I was absolutely amazed at how they were worshipping and doing things even though they were disabled. They were still able to take part. I just thought it was amazing.”

The SAFE School of Arts is the result of an association set up by The Salvation Army in 1968 to provide compassionate support, a listening ear and practical help for people with special needs and the careers and families that support them.

The first Christian summer school was held in 1975 at a hotel in South Wales. It became quickly popular and continues to be oversubscribed.

“Without The Salvation Army I wouldn’t be where I am today,” said Mandy. “They’ve helped me and encouraged me. They’ve just shown us how special we are.”

It was during the SAFE final festival in 2003 that Mandy met future husband Tristan, a delegate with a learning disability. “He just kept smiling at me and I thought ‘ooo.’ After the festival Tristan and I started writing letters and my church encouraged me to attend SAFE as a delegate the following year. That’s when Tristan and I… we just bloomed. We got married on 16th September 2006.

“SAFE has changed my life. Tristan had said that he’d given up hope of finding anyone and I’d given up hope too. My dad never believed that I would ever be able to be independent and run a home on my own. He never thought I would manage it. He said he was just so proud of me to see me in my little flat with my husband.”

“It wasn’t until I came to SAFE that I realised I had so much in common with other people with disabilities. You think you’re on your own but when you go to SAFE you realise you’re not. We’re all facing the same prejudices. Trying to be accepted in the real world is the hardest thing.”

Mandy and Tristan are active members of The Salvation Army church in Bromley Temple. “We’re really thankful that they except us and let us use our gifts. It’s like a big family: always there.”

This year also marks the 150th anniversary of The Salvation Army itself, an international Christian church and registered charity active in 126 countries. The Salvation Army’s programmes to support people with special needs demonstrate its commitment to meeting the needs of society and making the Christian message accessible to all.

Keith Turton has been a staff member at SAFE since 2001. He said: “At SAFE we are all equal whether able bodied or not. No one is an outsider. The delegates bring absolute joy into my life. These people have every right to complain and be grumpy but they are just happy people. Inspirational is the word.”

Today in the UK and Republic of Ireland The Salvation Army’s work includes more than 800 community churches and social centres providing a diverse network of services for people experiencing homelessness, poverty, or unemployment, adult victims of modern slavery, older people, children and families.