It might look like just another new charity shop in the high street from the outside.

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But among the bric-a-brac, books and clothes behind the window, youngsters are learning vital life skills.

For the latest addition on Cromer’s Church Street is Strands, a shop raising money for extras at Sidestrand Hall special school - but also giving work experience to its students with complex needs.

Youngsters with a range of learning difficulties and other conditions such as autism, are helping serve customers, prepare items for sale and build display stands at the new venture.

The shop used to run in an old store at the school, but moving to a proper shop is providing more scope for pupils to polish up independent living skills for when they go into the big wide world later.

Shop manager Liz Locke said some of the students could be timid, and found it difficult to communicate, but were learning to listen and speak to members of the public. They also washed ironed, sized and priced goods.

“It really boosts their confidence and social skills,” she added. They also experienced travelling on public transport and were trained to safely walk around the streets.

Alex Hardingham, 16, from North Walsham and Ryan Medhurst, 15 from Great Yarmouth, said they were really enjoying learning new things, such as putting up shelves and clothes stands, unloading boxes and chatting with people.

School head Sarah Macro said the move into the high street also helped put the school more in the heart of the community, as it was “stuck out on the cliffs”.

Making money would also help towards the £30,000 appeal to upgrade its playground. It had made a good start as the first afternoon at the shop took £177 which paid the first rent instalment.

The shop is looking for donated goods, but also aims to sell crafts goods made by the students and staff at the school, whose 110 students come from all Norfolk.

Mrs Macro, who is chairman of the Cromer cluster of schools, said the aim was also to sell second-hand uniforms for the schools within it.

The shop is seeking donated goods, and any volunteers who could help - who would need to be CRB checked. It will be open from 10am to 4.30pm Monday to Saturday, and Sundays in the main tourist season. Anyone who can help should call the school on 01263 578144 or drop into the shop which is near the Overstrand Road traffic lights.

●Sidestrand Hall is about to open a new £250,000 residential unit for autustic students - the first of its kind in the county.

Clement Lodge is the conversion of two semi-detached staff houses on the site.

It will accommodate six students, including one existing pupil, and also has play and sensory rooms as well as kitchen. The buildings were finished at the end of last year, and are soon to take their first students.

Mrs Macro said the scheme had been a year in the offing, and would have 14 staff.

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