Footballer opens special Norwich charity shop

Former Canary striker Darren Huckerby was given the honour of opening a special Norwich charity shop aimed at helping children with complex learning needs gain valuable work experience.

The footballer even offered a helping hand by getting behind the tills for a couple of hours yesterday at the Close Links shop, in St Johns Close, but ended up buying a few items for himself.

The store, stocked with clothes, books, games, ornaments and home utensils, is run by nearby Harford Manor School, in Ipswich Road, which teaches children with complex education needs.

Headteacher Paul Eteson said the aim was not just to raise money for the school, but mainly to boost student's social skills and provide them with an opportunity to gain real life work experience which is sometimes not available to them.

'It's great if we make money but the driving idea is our students, who all have special educational needs, doing real work in their local community and we've had such great support from the community to do it,' he said.

'All children aim to have work experience but with our students sometimes things are more difficult. Employers can find it hard to cope with either communication or with extra risk assessments.'

The Friends of Harford Manor School raised about �4,000 to rent the shop.

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Since September school staff and students have been working to re-fit and re-decorate the store, while parents and local residents have donated items for stock.

Companies, such as Seckers, C.I.M. Signs, Waitrose and John Lewis, have either given their services at cost price or donated equipment with all efforts being co-ordinated by the school's higher level teaching assistant Sally Hannant, who has become the store's manager.

Two members of staff and two students will run the shop Monday to Friday, from 9.30am to 2.30pm.

Mr Eteson said the youngsters were 'hugely excited' to begin work.

He said: 'It's a fantastic extension to the school. Years and years ago special schools were those schools that were tucked away and no-one knew about them. Our vision is for our students to be out and about and for people to be able to meet them, for them to become more involved in their community.'

Just before starting his first shift, Mr Huckerby said: 'I think it's great. It gives kids a chance who probably would not mix usually with other people to do something a bit different.'

Three months ago, he began the Darren Huckerby Trust with the aim of supporting both large and small charities which make a difference to the people of Norfolk.

He added: 'It's my way of giving something back to the people of Norfolk. It's only to help people in Norfolk - basically for the area I live in and for the people who have been so good to me.'