Symbol is a truly ground-breaking organisation.  From its start in 1998 it has at every turn been both genuinely innovative and highly response to emerging local need. 

Our journey to date in a nutshell:

  • 1998 - Symbol was initially established to provide Speech and Language Therapy (SALT) services in a totally new way.  While it is widely recognised that the majority of people with learning disabilities experience some degree of communication disability, in 1998 this critical discipline was being provided in a highly ineffective and fragmented way, with therapists deployed in very small groups by numerous different NHS bodies across the UK, allowing for virtually no depth in expertise or career pathways for therapists.  Identifying the severe shortcomings of this structure, Tessa Duffy, Symbol’s Managing Director, created Symbol, tendered for and secured a large number of small contracts.  This enabled the establishment of a large team of therapists with a comprehensive breadth and depth of expertise and a management structure and exciting career pathway for its employees.  The result… a dramatic increase in the quality of SALT provided to a large number of children and adults with learning disabilities leading to marked improvements in their independence and unparalleled retention levels of Speech and Language Therapists in this sector.
  • 2000 - Symbol Family Support Services were established to support parents with learning disabilities where the challenge of parenting required careful assessment and support.   It opened its first specialist Residential Family Assessment Centre in Kent, followed quickly by the development of outreach support to parents living in the community.  This service has evolved through time in the light of practice learning and changing commissioning patterns, but remains a nationally recognised, used and unique provision at the forefront of best practice.
  • 2006 - Symbol established an Ofsted registered school, The Symbol Academy specialising in the performing arts, in response to a deficit in appropriate county wide school placements for a specific group of children.  The school took this cohort of children through a key period of their education and then effected a successful transition into mainstream schools for all of the students, where they then went on to secure formal qualifications.  While the Academy itself was no longer needed, Symbol has continued its involvement in the education sphere by providing (via a partnership with Canterbury College) a specialist mentoring service to students with special needs undertaking mainstream courses. 
  • 2011 - Symbol began to formalise its offers of short breaks packages and holidays to children with learning disabilities.  These combined the benefits of fun, specialist therapeutic interventions and desperately needed breaks for families.  These have provided a range of activities including sea-side adventures, riding and performing arts camps.
  • 2012 - Symbol built further on its experience in the Performing Arts world by becoming a partner of the Nationally known Chickenshed Theatre Company and opening its own Hopshed Theatre Company based in Kent. 
  • 2014 - Symbol was approached by parents who were struggling to find post school and college opportunities for their children and in response established a Day Opportunities Service (known as the Hop Yard services)that continues to develop its offer and grow in size.
  • 2015 - Again in the light of specific shortfalls in local provision, Symbol began to secure suitable accommodation options and provide Supported Living to primarily young adults leaving home.  This provision has grown rapidly and now supports approximately 50 people living in 15 different settings.  These services continue to grow month on month.
  • 2016 - Symbol opened a short breaks service supporting primarily people with very complex support needs, many of whom have experienced exclusion from other services. 
  • 2017 – Symbol opened it’s first retail outlet; Hop Stitch & Jumper is a high-end shop selling all things haberdashery and associated courses to the general public, while offering work experience, qualifications and paid employment to people with learning disabilities.

We are proud of this history and know that it signals only the beginning!