Derby pub becomes East Midlands’ first-ever Makaton friendly pub – and raises thousands of pounds for city special school

Staff at a Derby pub have learned a form of sign language so they can communicate with one of their loyal customers – a five-year-old with Downs Syndrome.

Workers, customers and Noreen Tristram, who runs the Oaklands in Littleover, have all got to grips with Makaton so that they can share stories and news with little Oliver Callis; a pupil at St Giles School, who attends the local with his family and friends for meals and fun events on a regular basis.

The Oaklands is now officially ‘Makaton Friendly’ and is the only pub in the East Midlands to be given this honour.

Karen Brownhill, communications practitioner at St Giles – Derby’s only special primary school – has been teaching them how to sign ‘Something Inside So Strong’ and the Bing Crosby classic, ‘White Christmas’.

They will use their Makaton skills during a festive sing-along at the Oaklands on Sunday, December 16 from 10am.

Anita Morrison (back row) was a part of the choir who signed White Christmas and Something Inside So Strong at The Oaklands pub, where over £6,500 was raised for St Giles School in Derby. Penguin PR: Public relations, media and communications

As well as the sing-along, the Oaklands, which is owned by Heineken pub group, Star Pubs & Bars, will be raising money for St Giles with a raffle.

Prizes include a 50-inch smart TV, Derby County tickets and INTU Derby gift vouchers. Over £5,000 has been raised so far.

“Oliver and his family regularly visit the Oaklands and we wanted to be able to communicate with him better,” said Noreen, who took over the running of the pub, along with husband Dave, in April 2017.

“He’s a lovely little boy and this is our way of doing something special. We’re the first pub in the East Midlands to become Makaton friendly – and hopefully not the last.”

To achieve Makaton friendly status, a business or organisation must make their services accessible to people who use Makaton to aid their communication. They must also demonstrate their new skills to a Makaton tutor before being signed off.

Anita Morrison, Oliver’s mum, says she has been overwhelmed with the support of the community.

She said: “Oliver has Downs Syndrome; his speech is delayed and he has mild hearing loss. He uses Makaton as a form of communication.

“I posted a video of Oliver signing ‘Something Inside So Strong’ on social media a few months back and it was picked up by the Makaton charity, who shared it. A friend saw it and was in awe; she wanted to learn Makaton too.

“I got in touch with Karen Brownhill at St Giles and asked if she could teach us Makaton. A few more people, regulars at the pub, got involved and the idea snowballed from there. I wasn’t expecting it to grow quite as much as it has!

“There are 11 members of the community who will be signing the songs on Sunday, including Oliver and his friend Aliyah. It’s going to be really special.

“I’m so proud of everyone at the Oaklands. Oliver goes into the pub now and isn’t fazed by anyone; he’s a social butterfly and his face is a picture when he’s chatting to someone and they sign back.”

Clive Lawrence, executive head teacher at St Giles School, hopes that other businesses in Derby will follow the Oaklands’ lead.

He said: “We use Makaton as a form of communication here at St Giles and I’m delighted that Oliver will be able to transfer his skills outside of school and directly within the local community where he lives.

“It’s a fantastic achievement by Noreen and the community members associated with the Oaklands. Karen Brownhill has done a great job teaching them, giving up most of her Sundays.

“Hopefully this will inspire other businesses and organisations to achieve Makaton Friendly status. This will enable young people and adults with similar needs to Oliver’s, to be more independent within the local and wider community.

“We use Makaton as a form of communication here at St Giles and I’m delighted that Oliver will be able to transfer his skills outside of school, too.”

Makaton uses symbols and speech to help people communicate. It is designed to support the development of spoken language and is commonly used at St Giles; Derby’s only special primary school.

Over 100,000 children and adults use Makaton as a form of communication. Last month, actor and comedian Rob Delaney became the first person to read and sign a CBeebies Bedtime Story on national television using Makaton.

Sarah Drew from the Makaton charity said: “We are thrilled to award the Oaklands pub with a Makaton Friendly status in recognition of their hard work.

“The Makaton Friendly scheme, which recognises establishments of all kinds where Makaton users will feel comfortable, is going from strength to strength.

“We are working with schools, emergency services, attractions and retail outlets including many well-known brands. This ensures that the excellent work done by organisations such as the Oaklands pub continues within the community so that visitors feel welcome.”


For further information please contact Kerry Ganly at Penguin PR on 01332 416228/07734 723951 or email

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