Mum in a mil­lion

TV Times - - Real Life - Re­becca Fletcher

t’s peo­ple like Anna Kennedy who put the word ‘great’ into Great Bri­tain. When her two sons, Pa­trick and An­gelo, were di­ag­nosed with autism and re­jected by lo­cal schools, she took mat­ters into her own hands.

Des­per­ate, she re­mort­gaged her house and used her life sav­ings to start a school for kids with autism.

‘The first day it opened with 19 chil­dren we were vis­ited by Of­sted [the reg­u­la­tory body for schools and chil­dren’s ser­vices]. I was a ner­vous wreck,’ says Anna, 56, who’s one of the ‘or­di­nary’ peo­ple the chefs are bat­tling to cook for on BBC2’S Great Bri­tish Menu.

‘I thought they’d close us down but the in­spec­tor said, “If I had a child with autism I’d send him

Ihere”. I al­most burst into tears.’

That was in 1999, since when the Hilling­don Manor School has grown to pro­vide for 187 chil­dren. Anna has also set up a vo­ca­tional col­lege, a respite home for adults and an­other school, and has an in­ter­na­tional fol­low­ing of more than 55,000 par­ents of autis­tic chil­dren on her web­site. The chefs com­pet­ing this year in­tend to say a big thank-you to un­sung heroes like her.

In the Queen’s 90th birth­day year, they’re tak­ing part in gru­elling re­gional heats, fac­ing judges Matthew Fort, Prue Leith and Oliver Pey­ton in the hope of be­ing cho­sen to cook at a ban­quet in the Houses of Par­lia­ment for Queen El­iz­a­beth II’S ‘Great Bri­tons’.

‘I felt very hon­oured when Great Bri­tish Menu in­vited me to the ban­quet,’ says Anna, who was awarded an OBE in 2012 for her ser­vices to spe­cial needs ed­u­ca­tion and autism.

‘I couldn’t be­lieve it when one of the Miche­lin-starred chefs tak­ing part in the show vis­ited our school kitchen dur­ing the series! The kids were thrilled and cooked a car­rot

soup while Chef cooked

Anna and Robin on The Peo­ple’s Strictly a beef broth. I kept try­ing to think how the judges would cri­tique the dishes but it was too de­li­cious!’

The ban­quet it­self – the series has al­ready been filmed – was, says Anna, ‘amaz­ing. I loved ev­ery minute and met won­der­ful peo­ple – all the time talk­ing about autism, of course! I’m al­ways try­ing to raise aware­ness.’

‘Or­di­nary’ mum Anna on be­ing hon­oured on Great Bri­tish Menu and how she set up a school for kids with autism

She still re­mem­bers the shock she felt when An­gelo, now

23, and Pa­trick, 26, were di­ag­nosed as autis­tic aged four and seven.

‘They weren’t cop­ing at school. Pa­trick was very an­gry, kick­ing and scream­ing a lot, and An­gelo went from show­ing no signs to sud­denly los­ing his speech and a glazed look ap­pear­ing across his eyes.’

Anna and hus­band Sean de­cided to home-school the boys. ‘We felt so alone – there were no sup­port groups so we de­cided to ad­ver­tise in a lo­cal news­pa­per and start our own.’

In­cred­i­bly, 275 fam­i­lies re­sponded. ‘They just kept com­ing, des­per­ate par­ents just want­ing their kids to have a chance in life. I thought, “If there’s no school for our ba­bies, I’ll start one of my own”.’

Told about a derelict school that was to be con­verted into flats, Anna threw her­self into fundrais­ing and re­mort­gag­ing their house to raise the £627,000 re­quired. ‘We put an ad­vert in the news­pa­per and the phone started ring­ing with trades­peo­ple of­fer­ing to help – car­pen­ters, clean­ers – it was like TV’S DIY SOS,’ says Anna, who was also cho­sen to com­pete on last year’s The Peo­ple’s Strictly for Comic Re­lief.

‘I got to dance with Robin Wind­sor and ex­pe­ri­ence the

Strictly bub­ble!’ she laughs.

‘It’s such a treat when shows like Strictly and Great Bri­tish Menu hon­our peo­ple like me, but that’s not why I do it. I’m just a mother who loves her sons and wants the best for them.’

COOK­ERY Great Bri­tish Menu mon-fri / bbc2 / 7.30Pm

Judges Oliver, Prue and Matthew choose chefs for a ban­quet

I thought, ‘If there’s no school for our ba­bies, I’ll start one of my own’

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