In 2016 a young girl had a "magical" surprise when a Santa on board a train started to communicate with her using Makaton. Betsy, then 3, who has Down's syndrome and impaired hearing and vision, was on the Train Ride to Christmas Town when he approached and struck up a conversation in Makaton. Her mother, Kay, posted the footage on Facebook and has since received over 4 million views on social media. 2 years later Betsy and Santa are reunited on the train...
By Betsy’s mum Kay
We were welcomed warmly by Claire Hope Blakey, the event manager, who introduced herself to Betsy using both speech and Makaton, this immediately put her at ease. As Betsy walked out onto the platform three elves broke into song, Betsy was mesmerised especially when they too used Makaton as they sang. What a wonderful experience for her to be able to listen, watch and fully absorb what was happening it was also, genuinely, an invaluable moment for me as her mum.
It was time to board the train, the conductor followed suit speaking and signing his introduction whilst ensuring he’d gotten down to Betsy’s level so she could see him signing clearly. Betsy introduced herself and eagerly stepped onto the train, she was keen to get going, she was a girl on a mission!
We met more elves on the train again they were great not only at entertaining us but at signing too, they sang and signed and made my little girl feel totally included in the experience it was just magical.
We arrived at Christmas Town Betsy was now beside herself as she could see Santa out of the window she became really animated saying and signing ‘its Santa!’
As Santa made his way up the carriage towards us you could see the children around us becoming impatient and eager for their turn. Finally Santa was crouched down beside Betsy and her face said it all.
Both Betsy and Signing Santa had a heart-warming exchange and yet again they both incorporated speech and sign.
From start to finish, this Christmas experience was truly magical in every sense of the word, or in the Train To Christmas Town, word, sign and symbols, the latter of which are located appropriately throughout the event site, demonstrating a real understanding of inclusion'
Both Betsy and I could not have asked for more, from start to finish this event was genuinely inclusive of all, this is a first class Makaton Friendly event and I would recommend it to everyone, especially for families whereby children with additional communication needs can feel truly included and valued. Thank you all so much
Betsy and her Mum
By Santa Bob
When I first met Betsy on the Train Ride to Christmas Town in 2016, she presented as extremely anxious and shy, her verbal communication was very limited and her signing was in the early stages of development. However what a difference two years can make. On meeting Betsy again Santa was overwhelmed by the amazing progress Betsy has made. Her speech and signing were fantastic; her confidence was such that for the most part she to take an active part, if not the lead role in the event. Indeed at one point she told me, ‘Don’t get stuck up my chimney Santa!’
It was an absolute joy to meet Betsy again and witness the progress she has made first hand. The Weardale Train to Christmas Town believe this is a wonderful example of how the application of Makaton and the hard work of supportive parents can make significant positive changes in a child’s life.
As Betsy grows in confidence and develops I believe her communication skills will continue to improve in turn enriching both Betsy’s future and those around her. We are committed to social inclusion and eroding barriers to communication for all customers, a decision which was taken some time ago when we received our Makaton Friendly status. We continue to expect staff to both learn and share Makaton signs in order that everyone can enjoy their experience with us to the full. I’m sure you will agree this is certainly the case for Betsy!
Importantly we are also trying to raise a greater understanding of the challenges and barriers to communication with a view to all companies, organisations and events on a National basis becoming accessible to all.
A huge task indeed, however the cumulative effect of these small steps, we hope, will have a huge impact in the erosion of these barriers for the future.
We would like to thank Betsy and her family for providing us with one of the best Christmas gifts of the year, by sharing their company, joy and excitement.
We hope you all have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, from everyone at the TTCT
Santa Claus and Claire Blakey, Train to Christmas Town Event Manager