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School of Arts summer week celebrates 40 years

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

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

This week (until 1 August) more than 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.

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.’ We got married on 16 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.

“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 Bromley Temple Salvation Army church on Ethelbert Road. “Tristan is an absolutely amazing keyboard player. He’s our church pianist. He plays for the congregational singing, for soloists and for the choir. Because of his learning disability he can’t read or write music but he can pick up the piece after hearing it once or twice, and he’ll play it back note for note.

“We’re really thankful that they accept 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.

Marilyn Phillips, 62, from Salisbury has cerebral palsy and is deaf. This will be her eighth year at SAFE. “I can’t wait!” she said. “Me and my friend Elizabeth are entering the talent night. We don’t know what we are going to do yet!”

Throughout the year Marilyn attends her local Salvation Army church in Salisbury. When asked what her favourite part of The Salvation Army is Marilyn said: “I like the Sunday services. They inspire me.”

Ten years ago Marilyn became a member of The Salvation Army. “It was obvious she had a faith,” said church leader Major Stephen Westwood. “We adapted the course material we use when people want to explore church membership so she could understand the basics.”

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.

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