STUDENTS with severe learning difficulties will be gaining hands-on experience in the workplace after a charity shop opened its doors yesterday.

All 120 pupils at Uplands School, who suffer from severe or profound and multiple learning difficulties, as well as additional needs including autism, visual or hearing impairments, will take it in turns to help run The Shop, in Redhouse.

The till was opened for the first customer shortly after 11am and headteacher Jackie Smith said it was all down to the hard work of the staff and students.

“It is a reflection of how hard everybody has worked, it has just made such a difference,” she said.

“The whole idea is to create a learning environment. It is a real shop that sells and makes things. A lot of our young people have work opportunities, but tend to be behind the scenes.

“Actually what our students are really good at is customer service. They are really good at smiling and being with people, but don’t often get those opportunities. The idea was to create somewhere they could get those opportunities.

“Six of our young people are management and they will give jobs to all the classes and students.”

The students’ roles will include meeting the public, sorting out goods, handling money and doing window displays.

Swindon Mayor Mick Bray opened the store yesterday, accompanied by supporters and children from the school.

Coun Bray said: “I am delighted to see so many people and to see another corner being filled by a shop. I am sure this shop will attract great interest because it has got something for everybody.

“It is about getting the children the skills to go away with. They will be able to leave school saying they have that experience and it will help them to progress.”

David Renard, cabinet member for children’s services, said: “We need to find ways of encouraging employment for people with learning difficulties and physical disabilities. This is a great example of how we can get young people involved in business.”

Children and staff from nearby Isambard Community School showed their support yesterday.

Assistant headteacher Kirsty Winnan said: “We are going to be involved as customers and bring children over here for some of their lessons.

“It will give them the chance to meet some of the Uplands students and will build on the partnership work we have with the school.”

The Shop, which is owned by The Uplands Educational Trust at Uplands School, will be open from 10am-4pm on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and 10am-2pm on Tuesday and Saturday.