All posts by Cailey Whitcher

It’s september which means it’s back to school

While some of your little ones will be taking those very first steps off to school, some of you will be moving up to the next year group and others will be starting new schools and colleges.

We hope the first few weeks have gone as smoothly as possible and everyone has settled in nicely. You were kind enough to share some of your back to school photos with us. So here they are…

 And thank you to Zoe for sharing their ‘not back to school’ camping trip photos too!

We’ll be sharing them in the next issue of our magazine which is out next month so look out for them!

Salamander: finding the courage to do what you didn’t think you could before

Over the summer 16 young people from the Group took part in the Salamander Fire Course. They enjoyed five-days of fire-fighting skills, first aid, water rescue, abseiling and much more. For Belinda’s daughter Immy it was her second year on the course. Belinda shares how Immy found the course and overcame her fears.


I recently met an adult who had been on a Salamander Fire Course and he said it changed his life and he couldn’t believe what he’d found the courage to do. This is exactly the same course our amazing young people take part in, and I find this so inspiring. The young people rise to the challenge and impress me more than I can express and the team of fire fighters, police and volunteers who expect the best and gently encourage and persuade until each young person excels are really amazing.


Immy is very fearful of heights and although greatly looking forward to her second year of the course had started to grimly fixate on the training tower until it became an all consuming worry.  Amazingly she was encouraged to climb the tower and although not reaching the very top still abseiled down from the level below. Her absolute trust in everyone enabled her to have a go.


I could see the before and after photos during the day and it was clear to see the relief and joy after she’d completed it!

This is what the course is all about. The ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ approach which can only happen if you feel very safe and fully trust those around you and of course if those around you fully understand you and know what support you need.

Immy’s favourite part without a doubt was cutting up cars. She spectacularly enjoys cutting up cars infact! But she also found the courage to lead her crew through a smoke filled building, she confidently climbed gantries to put out fires and literally immersed herself in the water rescue. She has come home a more independent and confident young woman.

I might add that she is still wearing her salamander t-shirts at home!


Well I don’t know about you, but I’m an emotional wreck! Thank you to you all for letting me part of your young persons life for these 5 amazing days. They are all incredible. 

This blog is really a huge thank you to everyone who has been involved in the course. But first a run down of this morning. Breakfast is eaten with delight and I’m sure you are all going to follow our lead and cook a full English for them for the remain of the holiday!! 

Down to the yard and into kit to run through the show. They all put their heart and souls into their parts so they can show you all what they have learnt throughout the 5 days. I hope you agree that it’s brilliant to see them going up and down ladders, cutting up cars and entering a smoke-filled house. As well as this there is the caring side as they look after the injured in the show, but not only that they look after each other. It’s a joy to see and I think firm friends have been made. 

So now to say thank you …… 

First to Danny, Loz and Chris from the Police. You guys have been amazing. Thrown into a group of young people who can be completely unpredictable, nothing has fazed you. You have been there for them every step of the way and they have loved you being there. Thank you for your patience, and thank you for listening, even if you’ve just heard it 3 minutes before! Please come again and visit us. 

Katie, thank you from the bottom of my heart. It’s like I’ve known you for years. Thank you for your shoulder in the moment I needed it and thank you for your kindness to everyone in the group. You came in this week and fitted in instantly, making friends with the young people and helping them when needed but ensuring they did it themselves when they could. We plunged you straight into water on the first morning and nothing has fazed you since. You are an amazing lady. 

Suzanne, even though you were only with us a short time you really made a difference. Thank you for your support and help. I hope you enjoyed it as much as we enjoyed having you with us. There’s never a dull moment on our courses and you joined in and helped us through them. Thank you. 

Toby, wow you have made 17 new friends (includes me) Nothing has been a problem for you and you’ve looked after the groups with kindness and care. Thank you for all your support through the 5 days, it’s been such a pleasure to meet you. Thank you for letting the young people be themselves but being one step behind them ensuring they are safe. You have really made a difference to them this year.

To all the Firefighters who have been with us on the course. You are amazing, I have so much respect for you all. Thank you to Steve, Nathan, Liam, Martin, Darryl, Josh, Matt, Dan, Rob, Jay and Nev. It’s you guys that make dreams come true for our young people. Even when you think they aren’t going to do it and its all going wrong you don’t give up and you get them to do it all again. Those are the moments they will always remember, those are the moments they will go and tell their families about. Thank you.

My biggest thanks is always to Mark and Nicky for the hours of hard work that goes into this course. You treat every single young person as if they were your own. Everyone is equal and everyone has an opportunity to shine. This is why this course means so much to us. Thousands of thank you’s will never cover how grateful as parents we are for your support in the course. Give me until September and I will be on the phone to you ready to book next year! Thank you so. So much for everything. 

I hope those of you that came today enjoyed the show. We are so very proud at what they have all achieved. We have seen maturity and confidence this week and it’s brilliant to watch them grow into the amazing young people they are.

I say goodnight to you all as I say a final thank you. This course has been brilliant. Thank you to everyone for letting us be part of your young person’s life. I hope they have enjoyed it as much as I have. 

I leave you with a quote I found….

“Be courageous in life. Life has so many opportunities so do not be scared to grasp any opportunity that comes your way. You have the ability to do anything you have your heart and mind set to do, even the things that frighten you.”

I raise my glass to them all and wish you good night.

salamander 2019 – day four

Another course nearly over, where does it go? We have had a great day in the sunshine. With the start of last week in the rain this week has been fantastic. Blue skies and smiling faces, how can you not love this course? 

After our wonderful breakfast (which was eaten nearly in silence) it was down to get changed ready to start our busy day. The teams were split so that two teams headed over to cut up some cars, one team went to the smoke house and one team to do hoses. 

There’s nothing better than cutting up cars and each young person had a go at dismantling a car. They started with popping the windows and this is such fun. There are some pictures of the shattered glass on FB now. Then the cutters come out. Immy’s eyes light up and the smile spreads, that girl can’t wait to get her hands on the cutting equipment!! She’s in her element. Everyone gets to make a cut and the roof can then be lifted off. 

Each year I joke about locking up your tools so you don’t end up loosing the roof off your family car. But I do worry that they are now getting really good at this activity and they enjoy it so much. So, I’m warning you now!

Meanwhile there was lots of activity in the smoke house with the added bonus of a little smoke. There was also action on the hoses and you know that all of this is going to be put together ready for the show. 

The morning shot by and it was soon time for lunch. Again, lunch is eaten and today they made record time. Served, eaten, cleared away and down in the yard in one hour. We went straight to the classroom where they picked their jobs for the show. It’s down to the real fun action stuff now and we start to get ready for tomorrow. 

The young people are sent to their jobs and the support crew now know their roles for tomorrow. Smiles all round as they screech around the yard in the fire engine. Lots of water and a baby…….. that’s all I can say on that matter. You will have to wait until the show to see what happens.

I’m looking forward to seeing you all tomorrow. 

Please remember that there is parking over the road at the County Ground. 


Wow, what a brilliant day we have had today! So, let’s start from the top. Breakfast was ready when we went up and they all enjoyed their lovely plates of sausages, bacon, eggs, beans and toast. Anyone would think they’ve never been fed before! Today they will need a good breakfast because it’s Nicky’s favourite day of the course, Water Safety Day. 

After breakfast it was down to the yard where the sun was out along with some chairs for everyone to sit on. No fire kit needed today as we get to wear the fluffy onesies and dry suits. First on with the onesies. Then the dry suits are squeezed onto the young people. There’s a couple of pictures of what happens when you don’t quiet get it first time and you lose the head inside the suit. This is the hard bit as the neck is designed to be very waterproof so is extremely tight to get over their heads. Once this is all done, they are zipped up and PFD’s are put on to ensure they float in the water, helmets and gloves are added to create an airtight young person. Now is not the time for the wind to be released from baked beans!!

Everyone is loaded onto the minibuses and Fire Engines and off we head to Coate Water. Once the other end off we get and the Walkway is inflated. Everyone carefully made it to the side of the enclosed area. It was at that point Mark made the call that it wasn’t safe to go in the water due to the vast amounts of algae. 

Plan B……

Everyone is loaded onto the minibuses and Fire Engines and off we head to Buscot Weir. What a great place this is. Everyone is eased into the water and the fun can begin. Now we usually do a little water safety but due to the scenic adventure it was time for fun. All but two swam across to the weir and I don’t do it often, but I’m stunned to say so did I. Yes I made it across!! Those of you that know me well know I’m the one who stays at the side so pat on the back for me, after doing 10 courses I swam…. 

The Firefighters have been over here many a time so knew that a great game is putting your head through the water in the waterfall. Yes your young people couldn’t wait to do this and many of them more than once. What a blast it was. They are all mad. 

Now it’s time to leap in and swim back. Some went in forwards, some went in backwards (some of us were misled into going in backwards..!! No names Mark !!) and someone did a somersault …..because he can. 

So now we have a few moments for removing helmets gloves and PFD’s and grabbing a drink and biscuit. Time to head back to the station for dinner.  Everyone was extremely hungry by now. Before we go back a quick visit to the toilets where Nicky discovered a Bat, yes you read it right, a Bat in the toilet. Don’t find one of those every day. 

I really am so proud of them all today, nothing was an obstacle and the faces and screams of delight as they put their heads in and out of the water was a delight. This could become my favourite day as well..!!!

I hope they all sleep well. 

See you in the morning. 

Life is so much easier now Lily can communicate what she wants

Regular Speech and Language Therapy gives our young people the opportunity to develop their speech and comprehension skills, enabling them to go on to achieve far more than might otherwise have been possible for them, and to become much better integrated into the community.

Lily’s mum, Amanda, shares how speech and language therapy has helped her daughter.

Lily was a very smiley baby, enjoyed interacting with others and seemed very keen to communicate. However for a long time she was unable to speak.

During Lily’s sessions at Springboard Opportunity Group in Chippenham, and Portage, we were introduced to using Makaton. As a family, we all learned some Makaton signs and used them at home, alongside spoken words. Even Lily’s sisters Aislinn and Sophie (who was only 2 at the time!) joined in enthusiastically learning the signs and doing their best to encourage Lily to copy. Lily’s grandparents even learned to sign to her.

After persevering with this for some time, Lily slowly started using a couple of signs, waving ‘hello’ and signing ‘food.’ At Springboard she really enjoyed singing nursery rhymes and signing along with Makaton. We started to sing these songs to her at home. After a long time of doing this, she gradually started to copy some of the signs, singing the words. This really was a big breakthrough in her finding her voice – she still has a big love of singing!

Lily sees her NHS Speech and Language Therapist approximately once per term. She has been brilliant in helping Lily with swallowing problems and advising how to help Lily’s speech and language to develop. We were so grateful for the help Lily was receiving, but wished she could have more sessions, to help to bring her on as she was so behind with her speech.

We became involved with the Swindon Down’s Syndrome Group when Lily was around two and a half. After we joined, we were told that the group provide regular speech therapy (SALT) free of charge. 

We were given a form to complete and promptly sent an appointment to see the Group’s therapist, Erica.

Lily really enjoys her sessions with Erica. She has given us so much useful advice on how we can help Lily to progress. Things that were easy to do, such as having Lily with me when I’m doing the housework, and describing what I’m doing to increase Lily’s vocabulary. Giving her choices such as ‘do you want the blue ball or the yellow ball?’,  and even helping her to start ‘reading’ by matching simple words to photos. 

Having the extra SALT sessions, which the NHS just can’t provide, with a Down’s Syndrome Specialist such as Erica, has made a huge difference to Lily’s progress.

Since Lily has been seeing Erica I have noticed huge improvements in Lily’s speech and understanding. Erica is so knowledgeable about Down’s syndrome and I feel very thankful to the Swindon Down’s Syndrome Group that they provide this extra service. It has been invaluable to Lily’s development.

This improvement in Lily’s speech skills have had a huge effect on her life. Other children at nursery find it easier to understand her, so she is more able to play with them and form friendships. She used to get very frustrated because no one could understand what she was saying. Life is so much easier for her now she can communicate what she wants.

Lily is now three and a half and her speech is going from strength-to-strength. She is still delayed in her speech & language development, but continues to improve all the time. She can now speak in sentences, telling us what she wants for breakfast or which episode of Mr Tumble she wants to watch! One of the best moments recently was when I was putting her to bed, and she suddenly gave me a big hug said ‘love you Mummy.’

Salamander 2019 – Day two

Well to say today was wet may be an understatement. Did it stop us? Of course not… we laugh in the face of wet weather! 

Our lovely breakfast was ready for us as soon as everyone had arrived this morning. So, sat in their teams they devoured the usual sausage, eggs, beans, bacon and toast. I’m afraid the beans got to a couple of the young people today and the changing bay was a tad smelly at times!

After breakfast it was straight down to get into full kit and onto the minibus and fire engines to go over to Westlea to do the high tower, tunnels and first aid. The rain didn’t deter any off them and the first team was kitted up and ready to go up the tower. Green team were the first up and each one of them descended from the top. I’ve put up a couple of video clips on Facebook for you to see how brave these young people are. Blue team followed, then red and white were after. Only three young people didn’t do the abseil but each of them had a go at climbing the tower. A great moment as we heard the shouts of “I’m Spiderman” as one young person came down made us all chuckle. 

While this was going on the other teams were climbing and crawling through the tunnels. This year it was all a little muddy because of the … yep rain! Sorry for any black faces. 

Inside the station was a chance to stay dry while they talked about being safe, first aid and calling 999. Each had a turn at being a patient and putting their friends into the recovery position. They really did well at this. Maybe you can get them to show you what they learnt. 

We had an exciting end to the morning – the Boom Box. Tim, who is Watch Manager from the Training Centre, gave a brilliant talk on what happens when the gasses build in a fire and the dangers of breathing them in. There is a video clip on Facebook of the talk with the demonstration of the Boom Box that made me jump every time. So sorry for the jump while filming it took me by surprise even though I knew it was coming! It was a fascinating demonstration that all the young people were glued to. Thank you Tim for coming over to show us. 

Soon it was time to head back to the station for dinner. By now they were all really hungry and lunch was swooped up quickly. 

After lunch it was down and back into kit for ladder work and hoses. The teams had a go at climbing the larger ladders and using the hoses with a ride around the yard in the engine with the sirens on. Large smiles all round. 

Today has flown by and we’ve packed in loads. I hope you all have a good rest of the week and we are looking forward to seeing you next Tuesday. 

Please remember to bring your spare clothes back on Tuesday as we may need them. Also please can I ask that you put a name tag or a label on the bags as we have had several moments of not knowing who’s is who’s belonging’s. Not every young person can identify their own things. 

Don’t forget to take a look at the photo’s we have put up on our gallery page as well as our Facebook page. See you next week.


What a great day we have had. 2019 Salamander has started and we have some new faces this year. We welcome them to the best five days of the year.  

There are four watches (teams) Red Watch has Robert, Abbie, Milo and Sophie with FF Steve leading them and Police Constable Loz helping. 

Blue Watch is Lane, Callum, Charlie and Jeremy with FF Rob leading and Toby helping. 

Green Watch, Alicia, Jane, Immy and Travis with FF Nathan and Police Sergeant Dan.

White Watch, Josiah, Andrew, Jamie and Leo with FF Darryl leading and FF Josh and Police Sergeant Chris. 

Well for those who know the routine we start each day with a lovely cooked breakfast cooked by the extremely hard-working Nicky. Some of you may have noticed you don’t see Nicky in the morning, because she is slaving over a hot stove upstairs getting our breakfast ready. We have sausage, bacon, egg, baked beans and toast with squash. 

After breakfast it’s downstairs for the start of the day. The morning is filled with team building exercises. We have “Blind Leading the Blind”, “Shark Infested Custard”, “Bench Work” and “Getting to know the Pump.” Each team has a go at each activity. I think there may have been a little cheating on the blind leading the blind, but this is not unusual on this activity and it causes a lot of laughs. There was so much hugging on the benches. This is the only time we allow hugging during the course and they are not supposed to step off. Some great photos of this. We were all really impressed how they all worked together on the Shark Infested Custard. Lots of talking and instruction to each other. Well done teams great work throughout the morning. 

Soon it’s lunch time and I think they have worked up an appetite already! Lunch is laid out and ready upstairs. Lots of fresh salad, ham, chicken, tuna and egg mayonnaise, bread, wraps and crisps. Juice all round and a moment or two of quiet while they tuck in. I have to say there was not much left at the end. 

After lunch it’s back down to get kitted up ready for ladders, smokehouse, and hoses. The ladders did not seam to phase them this year. Even if it was climbing halfway or to the top, each one of them had a go. 

Inside the Smokehouse the baby was rescued (several times) and the teams found their way around the dark house using their hands and feet to feel the walls and locate the exit. 

The teams also got to use the hoses this afternoon and much excitement as they got to spray anything that got in their way. 

Please take a look at the photo’s we have put up on our gallery page as well as our Facebook page and Jo & Nicky’s 50th page also on Facebook.

All in all, a very successful day with lots of smiles and laughter. I hope they all sleep well as I know I will. See you all in the morning with your t-shirts on and ready to go. 

Night night.


The Swindon Down’s Syndrome Group is on the shortlist to win a share of Persimmon Homes’ Building Futures £1million pot supporting under-18s nationwide but first they need online votes to win. 

Persimmon Homes Wessex is backing Swindon Down’s Syndrome Group to be a prize winner at a gala dinner in October, where cash awards of £100,000, £50,000 or £20,000 will be made to those winning the most online votes. 

Kim West representing The Swindon Down’s Syndrome Group said: “It is a huge achievement to have been selected as a regional finalist, but now we really need people to get behind us and get voting so that we are in the strongest possible position to earn one of the top three cash awards on the night. 

The Swindon Down’s Syndrome Group is a parent-led volunteer group, run by 10 Trustees and we support around 100 families within the SN Postcode. If we were successful, the money will go towards our Speech and Language Therapy Project. 

For all of us, being able to communicate is a fundamental part of our ability to be part of our communities, workplaces and families. Regular Speech and Language Therapy gives our young people the opportunity to develop their speech and comprehension skills, enabling them to go on to achieve far more than might otherwise have been possible for the, and to become much better integrated into the community. 

We have seen the Speech and Language Therapy Service transforming the lives and prospects of our young people. We can only continue to provide this service if we are able to raise sufficient funds. We are therefore extremely grateful to Persimmon Homes to have been chosen as a regional finalist and if we were to win one of the top three prizes, it would secure this project for come considerable time”. 

Kim added: “Voting could not be simpler. Just visit to and select Swindon Down’s Syndrome Group and vote for us we would really appreciate everyone’s support.” 

Building Futures is being delivered through the Persimmon Charitable Foundation, which last year donated £620,000 to support children’s sport. 

Through Building Futures, a total of 128 grants of £1,000 have been awarded to groups supporting sport, education & arts and health across Persimmon’s 31 regional businesses and its head office. 

Persimmon Homes is an official partner of Team GB and the Persimmon Charitable Foundation enlisted the help of medallists Kat Copeland and Callum Skinner to help determine the three regional finalists for each business division. 

One initiative from each category will go on to win £100,000 each through a national award scheme to be decided by a public vote. 

As well as the £100,000 first prize, there will be a £50,000 second prize and a £20,000 third prize in each sector, while a further 87 shortlisted projects will each receive £5,000. 

Online voting is now open and will close at midnight on September 27. 

To support the Swindon Down’s Syndrome Group please visit: 

Recycle Your Ink Cartridges and Help Support Swindon Downs Syndrome Group

Did you know that you can help us raise funds simply by recycling your ink cartridges via our Recycle4Charity programme?

For each inkjet cartridge recycled via the programme we will receive a £1 donation, meaning you can help the environment whilst raising money for charity!

To start, all you need to do is go to the address shown below and sign up for your free account.

Register now at –