Katy’s fight for a new opportunity

by Rachael Grealish

L-R: Emma-Jane Taylor, Katy Taylor-Hamilton and Geoff Hamilton. Photo by Robert Haile.

L-R: Emma-Jane Taylor, Katy Taylor-Hamilton and Geoff Hamilton.

ONE St Bees family is fighting to give their daughter the next step in her education.

Katy Taylor-Hamilton was born with Down’s Syndrome, but Katy is just like every other girl her age – she wants the opportunity to choose her own path through education.

Now Katy and her family are rallying support from the community to support Katy’s want to change her place of education, following a panel decision from Cumbria County Council denying her application to move from Lakes College, in Workington to Cambian Dilston College in Northumberland.

Katy, age 20, after completing a year of education at Lakes College, decided she would like a similar experience to that of her friends; she wanted a university experience . With this in mind, Katy started looking at residential courses, suitable for her, and found Dilston College.

Katy explained that she had heard about Dilston from friends who had gone there and, after months of her own research on the subject, approached her parents about it.

Dilston College is an independent further education college for those with special educational needs. It’s one of only a handful in the country that are specialised colleges with practical courses that focus on daily living skills, vocational qualifications or independent living.

Emma-Jane Taylor, Katy’s mum, said: “When Katy first mentioned it, we decided we weren’t going to make any decisions until we’d been there and seen it for ourselves.

“But when we went there it was just such a wonderful campus, so friendly and the atmosphere was perfect. We could tell it would be a place where Katy would be safe and among people of her own age.”

At Lakes College Katy has completed the first year of an Entry Level Diploma in Independent Living (Entry 2) during her time there, in a classroom setting. Emma-Jane explained that at Dilston students are given the opportunity to put life-skills into practice under a fully supervised, structured and safe environment as well as studying the core subjects; literacy, numeracy and ICT.

Geoff Hamilton, Katy’s dad, said: “Katy has had a wonderful time at Lakes College and it’s been great, but after seeing the campus we can tell this would just be the next step in Katy’s education – like any other young person going from college or sixth form to university.

With a full approval from her parents, the family got to work with pages of applications and appeals to Cumbria County Council to allow the change of place for Katy’s education.

After some time they received a letter stating that Katy’s application had been denied.

Katy said: “When my Mum told me that they said no, I was so upset, we were in the car and I just cried.”

The council stated that the denial was down to various reasons; one being that Katy’s education requirements can be met in her current placement and another that ‘Katy is obviously closely connected to her local community and it was felt that a move to residential provision outside of the county would be a retrograde step for her’.

The whole family thought these reasons were not good enough.

Geoff said: “Any other girl of Katy’s age would get to choose if they wanted to go away to university – so why can’t Katy choose her own educational path? Plus we also saw Dilston for ourselves and we could see that Katy going there wouldn’t be a retrograde step in Katy’s development, and from what we saw from all the young people who attend the college, it would be a step in furthering it.”

So they decided to fight it; they soon found out that the process would be a long one.

Emma-Jane said: “We looked at the information we were given if we wished to appeal and it ended up we had to go out and find out how to really move it forward ourselves. We had to make an appointment for a phone call with Adult Social Care, as the earliest meeting we could get is weeks away.”

Although her application has been denied, Katy and her family are determined to fight the decision.

Emma-Jane said: “This is something Katy really wants, she has gone out there, researched it, and she deserves to have the opportunities that any other person her age has.”

The family has rallied the whole community behind them after reaching out.

Gerard Richardson, MBE, has known Katy for years and worked with her on numerous Whitehaven Festivals where Katy has been a volunteer.

He said: “Katy is a wonderful individual,who has given so much to the local area, far more that she has taken.

“To have watched her grow up and play a part in society as she has, has been a privilege and now, when she wants to be more independent and fly the nest she should be given all the support necessary. Personally, I can’t wait to see what happens next in this remarkable young lady’s life.”

Facebook and Twitter have also been ablaze with comments supporting Katy.

Emma-Jane said: “We got so much support from our local community and we found out that there have been other young people in a similar situation to Katy.”

For now Katy and her family won’t give up fighting for the opportunity Katy deserves.