Our Charity of 2016: Lighthouse School

  • lighthouse-school-logo
  • lighthouse-school-logo


Every year we support a charity with a connection to our company. We open this up to staff who suggest charities they have a personal connection to. This year, Ian Harris, our CEO, put forward a charity very close to his heart, and it was chosen: Lighthouse School. 

Who are Lighthouse School?

Opened in 2012, Lighthouse School was the first free special school in the UK. The school was founded by the parents of children with conditions on the autistic spectrum, who wanted to give their children the best education and chance of employment possible. Only 15% of adults with autism in the UK are in full-time, paid employment and their aim is to change that.

Lighthouse School

Lighthouse School in Cookridge

What do they do?

The school, based in Cookridge, offers a fantastic education for young people from ages 11 to 19 in all the usual core subjects. However, it also has a special focus on vocational and real-world training to prepare these young people to enter the workforce. Each student’s curriculum is specifically tailored to each student’s needs, which is what makes them so special. Pauline Hilling-Smith, Executive Principal spoke about their program:

“A process to identify each individual student’s needs has been developed and this informs the curriculum for that individual. The process is part of day-to-day planning for every student. Destinations include: supported or semi/independent living, supported work, independent work/careers, FE/HE. Part of this process includes ‘building aspirations’ and this includes the family as a key input as well as the students.”

As part of their commitment to achieve an increased number of young people with autism in meaningful employment, the team opened their own café and store: The Lighthouse Union Store.  Students over the age of 16 are given the opportunity to get valuable work experience at the store and gain relevant qualifications while they work.

Alongside the café, the school has an initiative to work with external companies to help students get into work. They currently have partnerships with Yorkshire Water, KPMG and Carillion, with some more equally exciting collaborations in the pipeline. Students are offered working internships at these businesses, with the idea being that at the end of the internship period, they’ll be offered a full-time job. Each role is individually tailored to a student’s needs as well as what the business requires, and includes a support worker to help with on-the-job training.

Lighthouse Union Store

The Lighthouse Union Café

What we have done so far?

As part of our partnership with Lighthouse School we wanted to give them our digital expertise. So, we built the school a website from scratch. We also sent some of our social media wizards down to train up the students on how they can promote their new café, to ensure the charity was getting their important work out there in front of as many people as possible.

To help boost awareness and increase footfall to the café in Cookridge, our team thought up the idea of the ‘Mask’ event. This evening soiree saw bloggers from the local area come to the café to meet and talk to each other. The only catch? They had to wear masks. That way they had no clues on what the person was saying from the expression on their face.

Lighthouse Blogger Event

Lighthouse Speed Friending Event

One of the major problems those with an autistic spectrum condition face is a difficulty in understanding facial expressions, so we wanted to give these bloggers at least some small taste of how hard this can make conversations. R­­­ead more about the event from one of the bloggers here.

In the coming months, we’ll be speaking to some of the companies that Lighthouse School work with (Yorkshire Water, KPMG, and Carillon), asking them about their work on the project, why they got involved, and the benefits for both their business and the students. These interviews will be hosted on the new Lighthouse Futures Trust website in the new year. We will also be rolling out a full content campaign to help promote the Lighthouse School and Union Café online.

As well as the digital side, this year we’ve been raising money for the charity to ensure they can keep providing the fantastic service that they do. We’ve hosted bake sales, hold a tuckshop every lunch time with all profits going to the charity, and even had a ‘wear your PJs to work day.’ The sportier of us have represented the charity at Leeds 10K, The Abbey Dash and a triathlon, with all the sponsorship money going straight to the charity.

Triathlon Fundraising

Search Laboratory employees before their triathlon

So far, this year we’ve raised around £5,000, and we’re hoping to raise even more over the festive season. If you want to learn more about the Lighthouse School, check out their website here. If you want to visit the Lighthouse Union Store, find it at 76 Otley Old Road in Cookridge. We know that like us, you’ll see what fantastic work the organisation does and you won’t be able to resist grabbing a coffee and a cake to help make sure they stay active for many years to come.