Emma was seven-years-old when she was placed by her local authority social work team at children’s charity Seamab in Kinross-shire.
She had suffered significant sexual abuse.
She was traumatised.
A series of foster placements had not worked out.
‘Anxious, frightened and confused’
On arrival at Seamab, she was anxious, frightened and extremely confused.
She did not understand appropriate boundaries.
She could be sexualised with adult males.
Educationally, she was clearly behind other children of a similar age.
However, Seamab staff worked alongside Emma to care for and support her to understand and appreciate safe relationships.
What difference does Seamab make?
She has now been at Seamab for almost two years.
During that time, she has made significant progress.
She now has trusting and close relationships with adults.
She also enjoys playing with friends.
For the first time, Emma is experiencing success in school.
She now enjoys all aspects of learning, particularly music.
Inspired to become a Seamab ambassador
A true story, Emma’s name has been changed to protect her identity.
However, it’s this kind of real life tale that has inspired Scottish rugby legend Chris Paterson to take up a role as Seamab ambassador.
Chris, 45, who is Scottish Rugby’s leading points scorer and second-most capped male player, is supporting Seamab’s plans for a new purpose-built school.
Looking after some of Scotland’s most vulnerable children, Seamab, based at Rumbling Bridge, provides a nurturing environment to help those who have suffered abuse and neglect in their young lives.
But it currently operates from an old residential property, and urgently needs new premises.
Supportive of fundraising efforts
In an interview with The Courier, Chris explained how he is taking an active part in the independent charity’s fundraising efforts.
A total of £5.5 million is needed to build a new school.
Already backed by some of Scotland’s leading property companies who are providing expertise and services to deliver the plans, the project needs another £2.5 million to see the new school become a reality.
Touched by the commitment of Seamab and its staff to the challenges they face, Chris, who trained as a PE teacher before turning professional in rugby, is also supporting the school’s sports and outdoor activities by running rugby sessions with the children.
“I basically got involved through Al Kellock (fellow former Scotland international rugby union player and managing director at Glasgow Warriors),” said Chris.
“Through Al and acquaintances, I met Chris Stewart who is chairperson of Seamab and got involved in bits and pieces.
“As a sportsman you spend a lot of time getting involved with things whether its education facilities or charities.
“Chris said ‘come up and see us’, so I did.
“As soon as you walk through the door, it hits you straight away how important, how valuable, how motivational and how exciting the essential work they do there is.
“The staff made a deep impression on me.
“I was struck by their warmth, their patience and just how big a job they do within the constraints of the old building.
“Once you’ve made a visit it’s quite easy to get hooked!”
What does Seamab do?
Seamab provides sector-leading residential care and education to some of Scotland’s most vulnerable children.
Year-round care for up to 25 children aged 5 to 18 is provided in a nurturing environment that lets them recover, learn and thrive.
Seamab’s skilled staff team provides 24-hour specialised care, therapeutic support and tailored education to meet each child’s individual needs.
Rather than being a place of “last resort”, it’s been described as a place of “last opportunity” for young people who’ve experienced early life trauma and neglect.
By the time they arrive at Seamab, they’ll have had different residential placements, very poor educational experiences and tend to be highly suspicious of school.
That’s why the school’s starting point is to build positive relationships, friendships and trust and to provide them with opportunities.
Need for new premises
However, conversations about the need for rebuilt premises have been going on for many years.
An independent charity, children are referred to Seamab from mainstream schools across Scotland.
Seamab receives fees from local authorities to cover the running costs of children in their care.
However, due to its independent status, there’s no statutory funding from government to improve infrastructure.
The means that while many mainstream schools have been renovated or rebuilt to a standard that meets all the environmental and facilities management standards of the 21st century, Seamab has been left behind and needs to fundraise itself.
Raising profile of campaign
Chris Paterson insists his involvement is “quite minimal”.
He’s hosted dinners and other fundraisers.
But chief executive Stuart Provan says having Chris on board, and the appointment of Chris Stewart as chairman, has undoubtedly helped raise the profile of their campaign.
Paterson’s background in education and familiarity with schools has also been invaluable.
“Our lack of physical education facilities is a huge factor for us – particularly in winter,” said Stuart.
“We do a lot of outdoor activities. But in winter things become more difficult.
“Scottish winters are not easy.
“It creates a little bit of a pressure cooker in the place when you think how stressed young people can be. Not having that release.”
Why new gym could make huge difference
Stuart said they currently put mats down in a former garage which they use as a gym.
But it’s got a low ceiling and doesn’t provide that “energy burning opportunity”.
That means there’s lots of sports and activities that currently can’t be done.
“With the new plan,” said Stuart, “we’ve got a full sized gym which is multi-purpose for sport and also for gatherings like assemblies, music events, things like that.
“People eating collectively as well which is a stretch in our current space.
“But just off that space we’ve actually got a trampoline room.
“It’s fairly well known that the bouncing of a trampoline is really quite therapeutic.
“We’ve got one outside the school here already.
“Chris has seen it and they are phenomenally good.
“Currently when kids get really distressed we have a quiet room.
“They might be noisy and vocal and disruptive and physically challenging as well towards people.
“When they go to the quiet room, kids would be aware of that in the current environment because the noise is travelling.
“But if we have a trampoline room, and kids are getting distressed, they can go to the quiet room or the trampoline room to burn it off.
“To have that option in the new space would be just brilliant.”
Fundraising support still needed for Seamab
Stuart said that while they have passed the halfway point in their £5.5 million fundraising, there is still a significant sum to find before they can start work.
A fairly significant amount has been contributed by Seamab through surplus over the years.
But with no funding available from the Scottish or UK Governments, he said they “fall between the cracks”.
Through the appointment of capital appeal director Kate Smith just under a year ago, they’ve raised around £2m through philanthropists, grants and trusts.
If they have to, they may go on to borrow some money through Social Investment Scotland.
That may leave them between £1m and £1.5m short.
However, there will be a “big push” over the next six to nine months to close the gap.
Rather than opening the process up to market, conversations are ongoing with a local contractor.
With businesses already working together, it’s hoped it could help drive further pro bono savings from more organisations keen to help.
Great community links
During construction of the hall, which would require the relocation of the car park, there’s a plan to engage young people by linking in employability, trades and learning about construction.
Good engagement already exists with the community.
It’s hoped that once complete, the new hall could be opened up for community use by local youth and other groups.
Stuart added: “From our point of view, I think it’s about understanding the concentric circles of what Seamab is.
“Seamab is serving Perth and Kinross, but also the whole of Scotland.
“Although we are quite unknown to some people, we serve such a massive important place for children who otherwise wouldn’t have a really good educational experience.
“We are kind of giving them that open opportunity through relationships and stick-ability.
“Sticking with young people through really difficult times.
“I think it’s important to get that across.
“And in terms of the physical environment, the school can make a massive difference.
“It would make our young people feel like any other young person in the land.
“They have the facilities they deserve and can access the same type of facilities as everyone else. Currently they are not able to do that.
“Also going forward, to build the school now, there’s a longevity to providing an excellent trauma informed education facility.
“With the economic impact right now and families struggling at times, we could be more needed in the future. We need to future proof against the possibility.”
How to donate
To find out more about Seamab and donate, go to seamab.org.uk/