A plan to turn a former Hereford nursery into an independent special school has been approved.

Hereford-based Mercia Learning had applied to turn Trinity House in Moor Park, which previously housed the Merry-go-Round day nursery, into a not-for-profit school.

To be called GEM Hereford (for “Growth, Empowerment, Motivation”), it will cater for up to 30 pupils aged eight to 18 with a range of needs.

The community interest company says its mission is to “help children unable to attend school for various reasons to receive an education that meets their needs” - which can include ASD (autism spectrum disorder), ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), anxiety and trauma.


It says there is currently a lack of provision for such children in Hereford. It estimates there are between 300 to 400 children with ASD and ADHD in the county – “many of whom are struggling in mainstream schools, sent to inappropriate specialist schools or being home-schooled”.

The school will open from 8.30am to 4.30pm and employ five full-time and four part-time staff, its application said.

Planning officer Simon Rowles concluded that “bringing this vacant building back into active use would deliver social, economic and environmental gains”.

The building suffered a burst pipe over Christmas, which has set back the date for opening until the start of the next academic year in September, subject to an Ofsted inspection due in June, according to Marches Learning founder and director Debra Thomas, a trained therapeutic foster carer.

She explained: “A lot of these children end up being excluded from schools. But we know the kind of therapy we offer works, and has got children back into mainstream education.

“What we haven’t had till now is outside space that would enable us to deliver a full curriculum.”

Local property developers Manbro bought the building and now leases it to Marches Learning, she explained.

The new school will be contracted to teach the children by Herefordshire Council, although it may also take children from neighbouring counties.

An application for funding from the National Lottery late last year was unsuccessful, “as they said it was a service the local authority should be providing”, Ms Thomas said.

But she added that the school still has an Amazon wishlist of many items, "ranging from a 50p pencil sharpener to a £2,400 interactive whiteboard", which supporters can buy and have delivered to the school.

Want to stay up to date with all the latest news for Herefordshire? It's easy, just sign up for our free daily afternoon news briefing here and the day's top stories will be delivered straight to your inbox.