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New family structure is helping foster carers; Exeter’s historic Iron Bridge; Making it safer to walk to school; Support for farmers; and a section of the Exe Estuary to close for repairs.

New family structure is helping foster carers and their children

Our fostering service is one of the key ways in which we support children and young people who are in our care. So as well as the young people in our care, our foster carers are also really important to us.

We’ve been piloting a new programme that is improving the way that foster carers support each other and the children that they look after.

It’s called the Mockingbird programme, and it’s focused on building a support network around foster carers and their families.

It’s based very simply on a family structure, with experienced foster carers, Sarah and Andy, as the key ‘hub carers’. They in turn are supporting nine foster families, including 13 fostered children and young people.

The group, our Mockingbird family, meet regularly at Sarah and Andy’s house to catch up, and also arrange regular social activities and opportunities to get together.

It’s bringing fostered children together, and they’re benefiting from regular contact with each other. It’s also bringing foster carers together, some of whom have more experience of fostering than others, and between them, they can support, advise and care for each other with no fear or judgement.

We spoke to the hub carer, Sarah, and some of the foster parents in our Mockingbird family, and they told us what a positive impact this is having on their lives and those of the children they look after.

You can read all about it, and watch our video, in the story on our news page.

Vital measures taken to keep historic Iron Bridge in use

Residents and visitors to Exeter may know the historic Grade II-listed Iron Bridge. Built of cast iron, its full beauty is best seen from ground level looking up. Though built in 1835, the bridge is still an important route out of the city centre.

But because of its age and construction, there has long been a weight restriction prohibiting vehicles over three tonnes in weight from using it.

Our structural engineers regularly assess the bridge to make sure it’s still safe to use, but very recently they’ve witnessed quite a lot of vehicles – large vans and trucks – using the bridge that were thought to be well over three tonnes in weight.

Observing it, they saw that drivers were mounting the curb to squeeze their vehicles between two bollards placed there to restrict the width of the vehicles able to use the bridge.

The weight restriction is vital to the safety of the bridge and its users, and the three tonne limit must be respected.

So to prevent drivers of larger vehicles mounting the curb, we’re placing two concrete blocks as a temporary measure on the curbs to enforce the restriction.

Meanwhile, we’re considering other longer term solutions more in keeping with the history and conservation of the bridge.

“We want to keep the bridge open to traffic, but we must enforce the weight restriction. This is effectively the final step we can take before having to close the bridge to all vehicles,” said Councillor Stuart Hughes.

Read more about this in the story on our news page.

Autumn term is coming – are you ready?

As families this week make the most of the tail end of the summer holidays, the new school year beckons as many young people prepare to return to, or start new schools.

It can be an exciting time, but also for some an anxious one, particularly for parents and carers of children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities.

Earlier this week, we published a special ‘Back to School’ edition of Connect Me, with help and advice on a range of topics associated with the return to school:

  • supporting your child with school anxiety
  • applying for free school meals
  • getting more wear out of your school uniform
  • travelling to school
  • help with childcare costs
  • a healthy start this Autumn
  • immunisations for pre-school, school, and university-aged young people

If you missed it, you can find it here.

Learn Devon’s adult learners celebrate GCSE results

A belated, but still deserving congratulations to everyone on receiving their exam results.

Of course, it wasn’t just secondary school students collecting their GCSE results last week, our Learn Devon adult learners were also collecting theirs.

Across all four of Learn Devon’s centres – Bideford, Exmouth, Newton Abbot and Tavistock – adult learners dropped in to pick up their results and celebrate their efforts with staff, tutors and their families.

Among those celebrating at the Kennaway Centre in Exmouth after getting her grades was Natasha Cox, who got the Maths GCSE qualification she wanted.

Natasha said:

“I’m over the moon with my results. I worked so hard in the last six months. Fast track maths was a real challenge, but I got the grade, alongside my English GCSE grade.”

David Spelman, also in Exmouth, said:

“I’m really happy and pleased with my result. It’s worth studying the English language course with Learn Devon. I’m now off to study for a BA in History at the University of Exeter.”

And in Tavistock, Martin Ashton received his GCSE Maths qualification. 

He said: “The course itself is challenging but with the environment that was set up for me to be able to study, it made things easier. Tavistock staff went above and beyond to create an environment that I felt comfortable in. The tutor was great and had more faith in me than I had in myself. I would like to say thank you to everyone involved as I wouldn’t have done it without them.”

Read more about this in the story on our news page.

Exe Estuary Trail section to be closed for repairs

We’re having to close a section of the Exe Estuary Trail near Lympstone for three months so we can carry out essential repairs.

The Courtlands Boardwalk, on the trail between Lympstone and Exmouth, needs to be replaced after a routine inspection of the boardwalk found that timber elements of the structure are deteriorating.

We need to replace all 74 wooden spans of the boardwalk and we’re due to start on Monday 18 September.

This section of the trail will be closed while the scheme is carried out to replace the timber structural beams and deck planks with a more durable fibre-reinforced material.

You can read more about this on our news page.

Making it safer for students and staff to walk to and from school

We’re implementing new 20mph speed restrictions near Newton Abbot’s schools and colleges to help ensure that pupils, students and staff can walk to and from school in safety.

Work to make changes, such as new signs and road markings on part or all of 13 roads in the vicinity of the town’s primary and secondary schools, starts in mid- September.

Once we’ve completed the works, part or all of the 13 roads will have 20mph speed restrictions during each school’s drop-off and pick-up times.

The schools and colleges that will benefit are St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School; Combeshead Academy; Decoy Community Primary School; Wolborough C of E Primary; Highweek Primary; and Newton Abbot College.

The 20mph restrictions will be a mixture of mandatory and advisory speed limits, marked out with a variety of signs and road markings.

The times of the restrictions on each road will depend on the opening hours of each school in that road’s vicinity and will be active for an hour before school starts and an hour after it closes.

You can read more in the story on our news page.

New support for innovative farmers in West Devon and South Hams

We are launching a new programme to support farm businesses in West Devon and the South Hams to improve their productivity through regenerative farming methods.

The Agri-innovation programme aims to help farm businesses to maximise their potential through regenerative and innovative practices which promote healthy soil and reduce carbon emissions.

Support will be provided to 20 farms in the South Hams and another 20 in West Devon.

The scheme is seeking farmers who are open to and enthusiastic about embracing new ideas, methods, equipment, and processes.

They will be supported to identify their farm’s unique potential and viable opportunities, and undertake whatever actions are needed to develop and deliver an Innovation Plan. 

A key aspect of the scheme includes up to 30 hours of one-to-one bespoke support for each farm.

Farmers participating in the programme can also access specialist support worth up to £2,000 to help them implement their innovation business plan.

Find out more in the story on our news page.