‘We’re getting the confidence back that Covid took away’

Theatre group for performers with additional support needs can't wait for Christmas concert.

Performers with additional support needs can’t wait for their Christmas concert after nearly two years apart.

Pupils at the Shining Stars ASN Theatre School have been gradually rebuilding their social skills ahead of their show on Sunday.

Founder and leader Katie Slavin said lockdown had been particularly difficult for the stage stars and that she was expecting a joyful, but emotional, occasion.

“Some kids are really struggling from Covid,” she told STV current affairs show Scotland Tonight. “They’ve lost a lot of their social skills, so we’re just gradually building that up.”

The pupils will perform in front of almost 200 people at St Augustine’s Church in Coatbridge.

Pupils have been working hard to prepare for Sunday's performance.STV News

“It’s so important,” said Katie. “They just need that opportunity to stand in front of an audience, or sit in front of an audience and sing and get all the confidence back that Covid took away.”

The school holds classes for around 120 people, ranging from ages four to 68, with another 70 names on the waiting list.

Katie knows first-hand how theatre and music skills can help people with additional support needs flourish.

“I had a really bad stammer when I was younger and did drama at school and university,” she said. “When I was doing my placements at ASN theatre schools, I could see how much the kids were thriving, so it snowballed from there.”

Parents of young Shining Stars pupils are extremely grateful the school still exists after the pandemic-enforced shutdown.

Alexandra McNeil, whose daughter Heather has been going to the group for four years, said: “She loves being part of it all and learning all the skills with the makaton [signs and symbols language].

“It helps them communicate with different types of people and it’s somewhere safe that Heather can come.

Katie Slavin is looking forward to a joyous, but emotional, occasion.STV News

“When they do a show, it’s such a boost to their confidence. It’s lovely to watch and they do love it – it’s joyous to watch.”

Siobhan Cassidy, mother of Megan, who lives with Down’s Syndrome and autism, added: “It’s a place for Megan to grow where she can mix with her friends and develop as well, in a nice inclusive environment.

“We parents do not have that normally, where we can say we know they’re happy and being looked after. It’s so lovely. I couldn’t live without it.”

At the height of the pandemic, Katie learned that the hall used by Shining Stars was being sold, forcing them to find a temporary home at St Augustine Church.

Her main Christmas wish is that a permanent base is found that she can adapt to suit her pupils’ needs.

Scotland Tonight is on STV and the STV Player at 7.30pm on Thursday.

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