ORGANISATIONS from Masons Yorkshire Gin to a town council and a beauty salon are embracing a project to learn Makaton sign language - to ensure they can provide a warm welcome to people with communication difficulties.
Staff from more than 40 businesses in Bedale hope to become the UK’s second Makaton Friendly town this year. They are working towards achieving the status ahead of the Tour de Yorkshire arriving in May. By doing so, they hope visitors with speech or language impairments will feel fully included in the celebrations when the town hosts the finish point for the men and women’s races on Friday, May 3.
The communication method is based on British Sign Language and involves using signs and symbols with speech to help adults and children with learning or speech difficulties to communicate. Towns can earn Makaton Friendly status with the Makaton charity if enough organisations make their services accessible to people using the form of sign language.
Businesses and organisations have so far supported the campaign by taking part in signing workshops which have been held at Bedale’s police station, fire station, the Town Hall, St Gregory’s Church, the Big Sheep Little Cow farm attraction, Chantry Hall and the Old Black Swan pub.
Karen Pickles, Deputy Head of Mowbray School is a regional Makaton Tutor who has led many of the workshops. She said: “The way people in the town have embraced this is fantastic. About 40 organisations have so far taken part in the initiative, which is way beyond our expectations. We’ve been taken aback by people’s enthusiasm.
“They’ve also come from a wide range of different organisations; we’ve had vets, building society staff, representatives from pre-school groups and shop staff.”
Organisations taking part include; Masons Yorkshire Gin, Bedale Library, Big Sheep Little Cow, Bedale Community Bakery, Yorkshire Ambulance Service, the Dales Care Centre, Bedale Church of England Primary School, Bedale and District Methodist Church, St Gregory’s CE Church, Bedale Pet Shop, Glebe House Surgery, Bedale Beauty Salon, Headquarters Hair salon, BrandBedale members and Bedale Town Council.
The 90 minute introductory sessions teach frequently used words and phrases, such as “are you ok?” or “would you like a drink?” as well as vocabulary which is particular to participants’ line of work or business. So far this has included teaching a pet food store the different signs for animals and pet food and words an estate agent might be asked.
“The Tour de Yorkshire brings all our communities together to leave a lasting legacy on many fronts”, said County Councillor Carl Les, North Yorkshire’s Leader. “Initiatives like this which embrace the inclusive spirit of the event are great for local residents, businesses and future generations. As well as a world-class race which helps to raise the profile of our beautiful county with all the economic and cultural benefits that brings, the TdY is also about celebrating who we are and what we can do for each other.”
The training also means children from Mowbray special school who use Makaton will be able to communicate more effectively with people locally and use shops and services in Bedale more independently.
Karen added: “It’s fabulous when our pupils who use Makaton to support their communication skills, go into Bedale and visit a café or a shop and people can sign in order to communicate.
“On a recent visit to Bedale, a group from Mowbray School who use Makaton sign language were greeted by a lady who came out of the hairdresser to sign “good morning” and asked if we signed. On another occasion a member of staff from Mowbray School who uses Makaton with her students was in the pet shop and signed to ask for dog food and the member of staff was able to sign back.
“It’s good fun to learn and it’s wonderful for our Makaton users to enjoy a different experience in Bedale because people are speaking their language.”
Brand Bedale business group have also been heavily involved in promoting Bedale as a Makaton-friendly town. Donna Stothard, owner of Bedale Beauty and chair of the group said: “What a great connection between pupils and staff from Mowbray and local businesses, who have grasped this idea to become an inclusive town.
“Within days of posting these training dates on Brand Bedale’s Facebook page we had more than 10,000 views. Karen Pickles was amazing at presenting the 90 minute sessions. She made it fun and memorable, so we all left feeling confident at using our new skill.”
Councillors and staff with Bedale Town Council have all taken part in the training.
Town council’s clerk, Nick Reed, said they were planning to develop a Makaton guide for organisations in the town containing phrases which can be used during the Tour de Yorkshire.
“When the Tour de Yorkshire arrives, many – if not most – retail outlets and community organisations will be able to communicate about 30 basic signs, along with our stewards in the town,” he said.
“Just being able to say “hello” or “thank you” makes a huge difference to children and adults with communication difficulties. I don’t think we had envisaged the absolute enthusiasm with which the whole town has taken this up.”
Photo shows: Children from Mowbray School embrace the spirit of the Tour de Yorkshire
Video: A short video on a recent Makaton class held at the Old Black Swan pub in Bedale