Makaton Friendly pub

Staff at a Derby pub have learned Makaton so they can communicate with one of their loyal customers – a five-year-old with Down's Syndrome.

Workers, customers and Noreen Tristram, who runs the Oaklands in Littleover, have all got to grips with Makaton so that they can share stories and news with little Oliver Callis; a pupil at St Giles School, who attends the local with his family and friends for meals and fun events on a regular basis.

The story was featured on TV locally on BBC East Midlands ( and nationally on BBC Breakfast.

The Oaklands is now officially Makaton Friendly - and is the only pub in the East Midlands to be given this honour. To achieve Makaton Friendly status, a business or organisation must make their services accessible to people who use Makaton to aid their communication. They must also demonstrate their skills to a Makaton Tutor before being signed off.

Karen Brownhill, communications practitioner at St Giles – Derby’s only special primary school – has been teaching them how to sign ‘Something Inside So Strong’ and the Bing Crosby classic, ‘White Christmas’.  And on Sunday 16th December, they used their Makaton skills to perform the songs for hundreds of well-wishers – and TV crews – during a fundraiser for St Giles. Over £6,500 had been raised at the close of day.

“Oliver and his family regularly visit the Oaklands and we wanted to be able to communicate with him better,” said Noreen. “He’s a lovely little boy and this is our way of doing something special. We’re the first pub in the East Midlands to become Makaton Friendly – and hopefully not the last.”

Karen Brownhill, a Regional Makaton Tutor, said: “I have overwhelmed with the coming together of people in Oliver’s community and feel very emotional. I’m proud of everyone involved. There were a few nerves beforehand but those soon settled when we began performing.”

Anita Morrison, Oliver’s mum, says she has been overwhelmed with the support of the community. She said: “Oliver has Down's Syndrome; his speech is delayed and he has mild hearing loss. He uses Makaton as a form of communication. I posted a video of Oliver signing ‘Something Inside So Strong’ on social media a few months back and it was picked up by the Makaton Charity, who shared it. A friend saw it and was in awe; she wanted to learn Makaton too. I got in touch with Karen Brownhill at St Giles and asked if she could teach us Makaton. A few more people, regulars at the pub, got involved and the idea snowballed from there. I wasn’t expecting it to grow quite as much as it has! It was an amazing day; it had a real community-feel about it. I’m so proud of everyone at the Oaklands. Oliver goes into the pub now and isn’t fazed by anyone; he’s a social butterfly and his face is a picture when he’s chatting to someone and they sign back.”

Clive Lawrence, executive head teacher at St Giles School, hopes that other businesses in Derby will follow the Oaklands’ lead. He said: “We use Makaton as a form of communication here at St Giles and I’m delighted that Oliver will be able to transfer his skills outside of school and directly within the local community where he lives. It’s a fantastic achievement by Noreen and the community members associated with the Oaklands. Karen Brownhill has done a great job teaching them, giving up most of her Sundays. Hopefully this will inspire other businesses and organisations to achieve Makaton Friendly status. This will enable young people and adults with similar needs to Oliver’s, to be more independent within the local and wider community. We use Makaton as a form of communication here at St Giles and I’m delighted that Oliver will be able to transfer his skills outside of school, too.”

Sarah Drew from the Makaton charity said: “We are thrilled to award the Oaklands pub with a Makaton Friendly status in recognition of their hard work. The Makaton Friendly scheme, which recognises establishments of all kinds where Makaton users will feel comfortable, is going from strength to strength. We are working with schools, emergency services, attractions and retail outlets including many well-known brands. This ensures that the excellent work done by organisations such as the Oaklands pub continues within the community so that visitors feel welcome.”

Click here for more information on becoming Makaton Friendly

17th December 2018

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