A CORONAVIRUS grant is helping a pre-school for children with special needs to help them communicate.

Springboard in Chippenham has been awarded £5,000 from the Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund to cover staff costs for training parents to use its Picture Exchange Communication System.

The fund has already raised more than £1.1 million and distributed £850,000 to more than 200 voluntary groups across the county to help them tackle the fallout from the pandemic.

PECS uses simple line drawings to give young children whose disability leaves them unable to speak a way of making themselves understood.

Springboard manager Jane Boulton said the grant will allow the pre-school, which has missed out on vital fundraising because of the pandemic, to hold online workshops to coach parents in using the system.

“It is really important that we got the grant so we can get this training out there,” she said.

“PECS is something parents need a lot of support with and the grant means we are able to do that, but Covid means we have to think a bit differently so we are designing the workshops so we can deliver them online.

“The system is massive in terms of impact, the PECS is a child’s voice so it is really empowering when you see a family take that away because you know it is going to make such a big difference to that child.”

She said parents are encouraged to associate the pictures with everyday items, like drinks or snacks, so their children can gradually recognise them.

Jane said: “If a child wants a drink, they are shown a picture of a cup and they associate that word with the action.

“The children learn to give their parents a picture of what they want, and they are helped to swap their picture for that."

The Pewsham pre-school cares for youngsters from birth to five with conditions including autism, Down’s Syndrome, sensory and developmental disorders as well as physical disabilities. And it needs to raise £140,000 to keep going.

“Covid has certainly limited the opportunities we have going forward to make up the shortfall for the rest of the year,” Jane said.

“We had to furlough six members of staff and sadly we had to make our fundraiser redundant. It was really difficult, but we had to focus on driving the resources into the playroom."