Testimonial – The Castle School and Red Balloon Community Shop Project


Hannah is one of the first work-experience students volunteering at the community shop in Arbury Court, Cambridge. Red Balloon of the Air has partnered with Castle School to open the shop for an additional day (Tuesday) so extending World of Work and social re-engagement opportunities for young people.

Parent’s Perspective: Hannah’s Story

Hannah found returning to school after lockdown, extremely challenging. She had strong social anxiety and found the bright lights, noise and other school children overwhelming and stressful. Walking into a classroom and sitting through a lesson was impossible; Hannah became withdrawn and depressed. This continued for over nine months.

“Hannah was in such a bad place that year… it was scary.”

I sought a diagnosis for Hannah and she was diagnosed with ASD.

A friend mentioned Red Ballon as a possible solution to Hannah’s situation and when there were spaces, we got her enrolled. During her time at RBAir, she hasn’t participated in any trips, experiences or social re-engagement that Red Balloon has offered which I thought was a real shame. However, after much encouragement and persuasion, she reluctantly agreed to spend up to two hours a week at the shop as work experience. On her first day, I reassured her before she walked into the shop that she was in control over her time in the shop and that I would be nearby, with my phone on, in the car. We discussed coping strategies, such as time out and headphones. On arrival at the shop, I was concerned that the noise and business of the shop would be too much for her and she wouldn’t be able to manage. I tentatively left her and then returned after an hour to collect her, as agreed.

“I could hear her laughing as I approached. I was in absolute shock and couldn’t believe my eyes.”

On the way home Hannah was excited and talked more than she ever talked!

“Hannah took ownership of the shop display on her very first day and loved it as she is creative.”

She told me she had spoken to people in the shop, including customers and even initiated a conversation with one customer. I was so proud of her and what she had achieved that day. Her subsequent weeks at the shop were equally positive; she came home with stories of her day to share with the rest of the family. Hannah’s dad has recently been helping her create an Excel spreadsheet for the shop which has been helpful. She talks about ‘her’ shop with pride.

“I am so surprised that she is thriving in this small space, with strangers for a whole two hours… it’s amazing.”

“The shop has been a 100% positive experience for her.”

“Louise, RB shop manager, connected so well with Hannah and is perfect for the job.”


We would like to thank Castle School, Cambridge and the Cambridge Council for Voluntary Service for welcoming Red Balloon of the Air to support this fantastic Community project.

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