How Dudley the dog and Karen the super-slimmer are helping bullied children in Norwich
- Credit: Archant
A sky-diving super-slimmer raises cash and a spaniel who loves lessons reduces stress for Red Balloon Learner Centre in Norwich
Dudley the dog is school receptionist, art-room assistant, pastoral care expert - and pet.
The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel greets pupils as they arrive at school, sits with them if they are anxious and particularly enjoys art lessons.
Dudley is part of the team at the Red Balloon school in Norwich, working with children who have been so badly bullied, or otherwise traumatised, that they cannot attend mainstream school.
Officially, he belongs to school co-ordinator Angela Hewett, who said: 'He comes into the centre every day with me and as the young people arrive he meets them with me, his little tail wagging.'
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Angela says he can sense when a child is particularly anxious and will cuddle up with them, and he joins pupils in lessons too. 'He often sits on someone's lap with his paws on the table!'
The Red Balloon Centre on Earlham Road, offers a therapeutic and academic curriculum to up to 20 children aged between 11 and 16.
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'We have young people who come to us who might not have been to school for two or three years,' said Angela. 'Often they will have been at home 24/7. Our main aim is to develop their confidence and self esteem and give them their lives back.'
Pupils then return to mainstream school, sixth form, or college courses and go on to jobs and university.
Karen Fulcher is raising money for Red Balloon as a thank you for how it helped her son. .
'Samuel got so badly bullied he didn't want to be here any more,' said Karen.
'He was always a bit of a worrier and it developed into depressive anxiety disorder. 'They turned his life around. I owe so much to them. I dread to think what would have happened if he hadn't got a place at Red Balloon.
They gave him a safe place to work and lots of therapy and one-to-one teaching. He attended Red Balloon from the age of 13 to 16 and then went to City College to do A levels. He now works in the finance department for the Norfolk and Norwich University Trust and I'm immensely proud of him.
'It was seven years of suffering for our family, and now I want to help other families in the same situation.'
Karen completed a charity skydive for Red Balloon – but jumping out of the aeroplane was the least of her worries. First she had a lot of weight to lose.
Told she was teetering on the edge of diabetes, she knew she had to make some changes. 'I have been on quite a journey,' said Karen. After a rigorous programme of healthy eating and exercise she lost enough weight to be able to do a charity skydive.
In the past 15 months Karen has lost more than six stones – and raised more than £500, so far, for Red Balloon
The mother of four, and grandmother, said she had struggled with her weight most of her life and was more than 22 stone when she was warned she faced developing diabetes.
Instead of waiting for ill-health to catch up with her, she headed to the gym, with her 22-year-old son Samuel for support. And overhauling her lifestyle worked for her where the slimming classes she had attended over the decades had not.
'I was a comfort eater. I used to eat sweets and chocolate and crisps, and I would never go anywhere without my car,' said Karen.
Now she has lost an incredible 100lbs, dropped from a dress size of 30 down to 16, and is no longer at imminent risk of developing diabetes.
'I love it. I never ever thought I would say that I enjoy exercise but now I do circuit training, box-fit, walk at least 15000 steps a day, I attend the gym five days a week, one of which is with a personal trainer.'
She uses Norwich's Riverside Leisure Centre. She kick-started her healthy eating and exercise programme with Joe Wicks' Lean in 15 Minutes plan before continuing with daily exercise.
Even her own doctor didn't recognise the new slim-line Karen.
'I have always said I will lose weight but I never thought it would happen,' said Karen. My husband, David, has been a rock. Now he's joined the gym too so that he gets to spend more time with me, I'm there that often!
Her breakfast would once have been lots of toast and sugary cereal, but is now egg, spinach and salmon. 'Or sometimes I would skip breakfast and then just eat all day,' said Karen. 'I love baking, and still make celebration cakes, but I don't eat them any more. I used to eat all the bits I had trimmed off too!'
Now lunch is a salad of spinach leaves, sugar snap peas, baby tomatoes and a bit of chicken, and dinners are no longer takeaways.
'Now I eat to live, rather than live to eat. And I love clothes shopping too. I used to hate it. I would just buy something to completely cover myself up.'
Earlier this year she was able to run a sponsored marathon distance, in a month, in aid of the British Heart Foundation, and eventually she was light enough to complete a charity sky-dive at Ellough airfield near Beccles.
To add to Karen's fundraising for Red Balloon visit mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/karenfulcher1
For more information on Red Balloon visit www.redballoonlearner.org/RB-Norwich