PUPILS at a local special needs school exploded with joy after being surprised with a brand new minibus, generously funded by four charitable organisations, including St James’s Place Foundation.

Parents, governors and friends of Fitzwaryn School in Grove, Wantage were invited to join pupils for a surprise event in the school’s playground, this month. The event was organised by Ray Collins, a well-known local fundraiser who set up a charitable trust in his own name. 

Seconds after Mr Collins announced the real reason for the event, a shiny new minibus was driven towards the pupils and guests, who burst into spontaneous shrieks of joy and excitement.

“The pupils began jumping around, clapping and cheering,” recalled Mr Collins. “They thought they were going on a trip straight away and once in the minibus, they started tooting the horn. They were amazing!”

Mr Collins spoke to the school about surprising the pupils with a brand new minibus earlier this year. Then within weeks Chris Medlock, Corporate Communications Manager at Nuvia, a service provider to the nuclear industry and supporter of the Vinci Foundation, visited Ray, to discuss how the Foundation can offer support locally. Weeks later Peter Yearling, a Senior Partnership Development Manager at St James’s Place Foundation, a corporate supporter of Variety, the Children’s Charity also got in touch with Ray.

Mr Yearling said: “It was a group decision to keep this secret from parents and children. This proved difficult because we were all excited by the proposition, but we held firm.

“The response of the children on the day and the parents was “out of this world” and well worth the efforts of all concerned.

“Along with all the other people who worked so hard on the project, I felt incredibly proud of our efforts and also proud to be part of the Foundation and the marvellous work they do with charities.”

Fitzwaryn School’s brand new 17 seater vehicle – officially known as a Variety Sunshine Coach – has a special tail lift and four removable seats to allow wheelchair access. 

The school will be using the minibus for a range of exciting trips including a trip to see a performance of Comedy of Errors in Oxford, very soon.

Stephanie Coneboy, the school’s headteacher said:

“We are absolutely thrilled to have received one of Variety’s Sunshine Coaches. Words cannot express how grateful we are to all the people who made this happen for us. It would have taken us years and years to fundraise for a bus as beautiful as this!”

Variety has been helping improve the lives of young people who are sick, disabled or disadvantaged since 1949.

Colleen Ettridge, Head of Fundraising at Variety, the Children’s Charity said: 

“We are extremely grateful to St James’s Place, the Vinci Foundation and the Ray Collins Charitable Trust for funding Fitwaryn School’s Variety Sunshine Coach.  These coaches, often regarded as ‘mobile classrooms’, give pupils with additional needs the opportunity to experience active learning and develop life skills outside of the school environment.”