Bishop Jonathan opens therapeutic learning centre

    5 Jan. 2024

    BISHOP Jonathan has opened a new centre that aims to help students with their social, emotional and mental health – and it will bear his name.

    He formally opened ‘The Jonathan Centre’ at Charter C of E Academy in Portsmouth. It’s a therapeutic learning centre that aims to help students to overcome barriers to learning. It fits in with one of the priorities that he identified when he was first appointed Bishop of Portsmouth – the need to tackle the growing mental health epidemic among our young people.

    He cut a ribbon with the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, Cllr Tom Coles, after which visitors were given a chance to tour the new centre. It has been created in the Aldwell building, the oldest part of the academy, which was the original St Luke’s School back in the 1860s. It has been given a complete revamp, with rooms designed for creative art therapy, pastoral mentoring, cooking and sport.

    The idea is that students who might otherwise refuse to attend or who struggle in the classroom can be referred for a range of targeted support that will help them to access the curriculum and then thrive. The centre is only a few steps away from one of the school gates, meaning that students and their families can come and go without needing to walk through the rest of the school grounds.

    Principal Christian Down explained to visitors that the cumulative effect of Covid lockdowns, teachers’ strikes and pupils' increased anxiety had resulted in increased absence rates from schools and a spike in referrals to mental health services. This centre would help Charter Academy to provide earlier intervention to combat issues such as school phobia and challenging behaviour.

    This centre continues the tradition of the secondary school naming their buildings after Bishops of Portsmouth. Bishop Christopher Foster opened the Christopher Building in 2021, just before he retired.

    The centre also has a family connection as Bishop Jonathan’s wife, Christine Frost (pictured above with student Oli Thusi), works there as a creative art therapist – having originally visited Charter Academy on the day that Jonathan was announced as the new Bishop of Portsmouth.

    Bishop Jonathan with students Oli Thusi, 16, and Daniel Holmes, 15
    Bishop Jonathan speaks at the launch of the Jonathan Centre
    Bishop Jonathan and Cllr Tom Coles, Lord Mayor of Portsmouth

    Bishop Jonathan said: “This centre is part of a move to make this place ever more inclusive and welcoming. I’ve been speaking to your students and they say how important stability and inclusiveness is for learning. The Jonathan Centre is part of that transformation that aims to increase aspiration – meeting people at their point of need and opening doors that may not have been open before.

    “When I discovered that some of the buildings here were named after bishops, I wondered if I might return after retirement to open something. But I can’t think of anything better to bear my name – I expressed when I first came here that my number one priority was the mental health of children and young people. It’s a joy to be associated with this work. This launch is part of an integrated vision for every young person to flourish here.”

    Vice principal Juliet Read-Birks, who started at Charter Academy in September 2023, said: “We’ve realised that we need to do something to help children to manage their mental health. We currently have a generation of children who are not as resilient, for various reasons. They’ve had to deal with a lot of chaos and they lack stability, even at school.

    “The Jonathan Centre will provide a non-judgemental space for students to actively address the challenges they face. There will be a menu of intervention that will help them to tackle the issues that are preventing them from learning effectively in the rest of the school site. Our experts, which includes those involved in art therapy, Pompey in the Community, trained ELSAs and staff from Place2Be will help with regulation and de-escalation.”

    The centre has now been launched for students at Charter Academy. In September 2024, the idea is to open it up to students’ families. By summer 2025, it will expand its operations to act as a hub in the local community. The centre will work in partnership with St Luke’s Church and Portsmouth Hive to compliment the local services available in the Somerstown area.

    The sensory room at the Jonathan Centre
    The kitchen and dining area at the Jonathan Centre

    The Jonathan Centre includes a sensory room, an intervention room, a kitchen and dining area, a community space, and a fairly-standard classroom, which aims to replicate what students might see in the rest of the school. The resources includes sand. model figures, playdough, paint and 'mood monsters' on the walls to help students to identify how they are feeling.

    Among the interventions offered will be art therapy, speech and language therapy, pastoral mentoring, reconnecting through sport, Lego therapy and support in emotional literacy. Some of those involved once interventions are offered to the wider community include Homestart, Place2Be family counselling, Pompey in the Community, Motiv8, Solent Mind and education psychologists.

    Student Oli Thusi, aged 16, said: "I was really excited to see this and impressed not just with the way it looks, but also the way it feels. It feels like somewhere you might relax and calm down. This was a very dark building, but now it's so much more welcoming. I know kids in our year who struggle and I know they'll benefit from being in the space before they return to the classroom."

    Daniel Holmes, 15, said: "The idea is amazing, and I'm glad that students are getting the support they need. It's a really good foundation to help bring those who are struggling back into the main school."

    And Maheep Kaur, 15, said: "I came here for the first time in September 2022 and I wasn't confident about going into classrooms full of pupils. I feel happier now, but I can see that this will be a really good place for those who need help. This will help to make everyone in school feel included, especially those who will feel this is 'their' space."

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