Five-Minute Marvels: The Sparkle Project at Knockevin Special School

Fundraising School Improvement SEN Northern Ireland
02 November 2017
To tackle recent funding cuts, the PSA at Knockevin Special School went above and beyond to support the school with a dedicated fundraising year. Here’s how they did it…

Who are they?

Knockevin Special School in County Down supports pupils with severe learning difficulties, providing a social and secure learning environment where the children feel safe. After big funding cuts, the Principal was upset that they would not be able to make much-needed work on essential facilities, such as refurbished sensory rooms, and repairs to the swimming pool. That’s when the Parent Staff Association (PSA) stepped in.

Whilst the PSA has supported Knockevin for some time, it’s only more recently that they have formalised a structure – adopting a model constitution, and registering as a charity. This helped them to raise their ambitions, and in response to the funding cuts, they coordinated The Sparkle Project,’ a year for the school community to dedicate entirely to fundraising. Since the school required funds well in excess of the PSA’s previous annual totals, they set themselves the aspirational target of £50k.

How did they do it?

As PSA Chair Paula Dillon explains, People knew there was an end in sight. It allowed us to say, this is for a year, and then we’ll leave you alone for a bit.’” With the challenge set, the Knockevin community pulled together to reach the target. We had a theme and a plan, and we delegated different tasks to different people. The whole school got involved.”

Knockevin PSA organised a variety of events to span the year. We hosted a fun run, Asda offered us a bag pack for Christmas week, and everybody played their part. People took on their own projects too: pub quizzes, a garden party, golf days, coffee mornings, Christmas fairs, raffles in school… Parents and families picked up on it and started doing their own fundraising.” With so much activity going on, spreading the word was vital, and Knockevin liaised with the local newspapers to secure a two-page feature to share their message, aims, and events. They also applied for grants, which paid off with £10k from Big Lottery, and £5k from True Colours Trust.

The PSA marked the end of their fundraising year with the Sparkle Ball at the Titanic in Belfast, a black-tie event which saw a music teacher at the school perform with his band. As well as being a celebratory evening, it was a final opportunity to raise funds through ticket sales and raffles, and with a concerted PR effort, word spread around the local community, so attendance was high. There were just so many people and it was a beautiful setting,” says Paula. Everybody loved it and the time flew by. So many people made donations. The parents and teachers were thrilled.”

How did it go?

The Sparkle Project was an incredible success. The PSA was able to fund the newly completed sensory rooms alongside the swimming pool repairs. Since they overshot their original target, they also funded a cycle track for the school, complete with an accompanying bicycle shed. And even then, the PSA still had extra funds, ready to support future projects!

You need a team that works well together, somebody who can do paperwork and forms; someone motivating you and keeping the energy up; somebody to go to when you get stuck,” Paula advises. You have to pull together.” As of November, Knockevin’s PSA was nominated for an Institute of Fundraising NI award. Emma Corry, Chair of the IOFNI Awards 2017, commented, The judging panel were very impressed by the nomination from Knockevin Parent Staff Association for Fundraising Team of the Year. They demonstrated great fundraising and organisation skills involving their whole community in a series of events throughout the year to raise an incredible amount of money.”

The Knockevin group have really demonstrated the great things that a small group of committed volunteers can achieve and are an inspiration to all fundraisers.”

At the end of the year, the PSA members had learned plenty of new skills, forged connections with the local community, and most importantly had helped improve the educational experience of all of Knockevin’s children. We’re excited to see how they build on the glittering success of The Sparkle Project. Congratulations to the Knockevin PSA!

With thanks to Paula Dillon of the Knockevin Parent Staff Association.

Want to make your own marvel? Thinking of setting up your own dedicated fundraising year?

  • The PSA couldn’t have done it alone – they worked as a team, and sought community support when they needed it
  • Don’t keep your achievements to yourself! Network with local media, and spread the word to make your fundraising a big hit