Teacher makes centre for trauma-stricken kids in France

It’s a dream shared by ­millions – to leave the hustle and bustle of rain-speckled city life behind for the sunshine of the South of France.

Tuesday, 5th May 2015, 10:06 am
Sunflower House in France.
Sunflower House in France.

But now one Capital teacher is doing just that as part of her ambitious plans to create a specialist centre for Scottish children suffering trauma.

Janet Avery, who works at Newhaven’s Victoria Primary School, is determined to transform a group of buildings near the small market town of Duras in Lot-et-Garonne into a residential recovery hub for troubled youngsters – complete with 16 en-suite bedrooms and a raft of outdoor activities including canoeing, mountain-biking and archery.

And the primary teacher hopes to stump up as much as £1 million to turn her dream into a reality – with half a million pounds set to be raised by crowd-funding alone.

Janet Avery launches her ambitious project with some help from pupils at Victoria Primary and Trinity Academy who drew posters for the campaign

The mother-of-two is even selling off her New Town home to provide an initial cash boost and hopes to keep the charity – dubbed House of Sunflowers – afloat by running a business operation at the 29-acre property alongside her non-profit organisation.

Ms Avery, 52, who used to run Gourmet Grub on Rose Street before selling it off last October, has plans to rent the buildings out for weddings and classes and even open a restaurant on the land.

She said she had been moved to launch her unusual initiative after seeing increasing numbers of children suffering trauma coming through her classroom doors.

She said: “The house is in France but the charity is Scottish. The children that will be benefiting from this will be Scottish and from Edinburgh, initially. As I have been teaching, there have been an increasing number of these children coming through our doors.

“The bottom line is that I feel passionately that their needs should be addressed, and you can’t expect schools to do it. It’s too specialised. It’s a very serious issue.

“So far we have had lots of support but I need people to know about us. The response we have had has been phenomenal. It’s reignited my faith in human beings.

“Our aim is for this one to be a template. The French government has already expressed an interest in what we are doing.”

House of Sunflowers was ­officially launched on Friday at an event at Newhaven Church, during which designs drawn by three children at Victoria Primary were picked to go on the charity’s official merchandise later this year.

When it gets up and running, the centre will have top US psychologist Dave Ziegler acting as its clinical consultant – one of the leading international authorities on trauma and psychological treatment of children.

Ms Avery also insisted the purpose-built retreat set to house the children – currently being designed by architects Alasdair and Neil Stephen of Dualchas and Hebridean Homes – would be carbon neutral and eco-friendly.

A special art and photography exhibition at the Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop will be held this Monday to raise funds for the scheme – with Malcolm Chisholm, MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith, confirmed to be ­attending. The politician said he was happy to support the plans – adding that Ms Avery’s proposals “sounded like a good project”.