A North Yorkshire community has become the UK’s second ever Makaton-friendly town – and is now preparing to welcome the Tour de Yorkshire using the form of sign language.
Bedale has been awarded the status by the Makaton charity after individuals and more than 40 organisations across the town expressed an interest in learning how to use the method of communication with customers, visitors and young Makaton-users from the town’s Mowbray School.
It is based on British Sign Language and involves using signs and symbols with spoken words to help adults and children with learning or speech difficulties to communicate.
The initiative was spear-headed by North Yorkshire County Council’s Mowbray School.
To earn Makaton Friendly status a town the size of Bedale needs at least 20 organisations to make their services available using the basic Makaton signs and symbols. In Bedale, 21 businesses are now registered as Makaton Friendly, meaning all their staff have been trained in using high frequency words and vocabulary specific to their organisation.
Training sessions were held across the town over a number of weeks at venues from the local fire station to churches and pubs.
Businesses to take part have included; Masons Yorkshire Gin, Bedale Library, Big Sheep Little Cow family attraction, 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 GP surgeries the signs for medicine and tablets.
All the organisations receive a Makaton Friendly window sign, to notify customers, and a vocabulary pack.
Bedale Town Council – whose staff and councillors have all taken part in the training – are also developing a special Tour de Yorkshire Makaton guide for businesses and race stewards in the town, containing phrases which can be used during the race.
The training sessions were led by Karen Pickles, Deputy Head of Mowbray School, who is a regional Makaton tutor.
“The effort people have made in order to communicate is the most heart-warming part of this for me,” she said.
“The community really has come out in force to support this project.
“It’s not just organisations; a lot of individual residents are also really interested in learning how to sign, and have come along to the workshops so that if they see our children in town or other Makaton users they can make them feel more welcome and included.”
North Yorkshire County Council leader, Cllr Carl Les, said it would ensure the Tour de Yorkshire was a genuinely inclusive sporting event.
“The Tour de Yorkshire is all about bringing communities together and leaving a lasting legacy. We want everyone to enjoy the race and celebrate their local communities and this initiative helps us to achieve that.”
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: “Businesses have really embraced this opportunity.
“It’s great that we can make this town more inclusive and welcoming for pupils and staff from Mowbray School and other visitors to Bedale who may use Makaton.”
Stephen Hall, Chief Executive of the Makaton charity said: “We are thrilled that Bedale is the second town to be awarded with Makaton Friendly Town status, in recognition of enabling more than 20 organisations to learn Makaton to support those with communication difficulties.
“Makaton transforms lives by giving people a way to express themselves independently, overcoming frustration and promoting inclusion.
“We are working with schools, emergency services, attractions, retail and hospitality outlets including many well-known brands. This ensures that the excellent work done by communities such as Bedale continues to grow so that all visitors feel welcome.”