It’s Our 70th Birthday!

The Percy Hedley Foundation turns 70 today! See how we plan to celebrate.

For 70 years, The Percy Hedley Foundation has been the heart of the community in the North East, empowering children and adults with disabilities. When the Foundation began there was only 12 pupils, now we support 584 people.


How did it all start? 

The Percy Hedley Foundation wouldn’t have been formed without the power and determination of parents, in particular Molly and Stephen Darke.  

Their son, Stephen Lawrence Darke, was born 8th January 1942 with Cerebral Palsy. They campaigned with other parents for a school suitable for their children. The legend goes that they used to visit local pubs collecting money as part of their fundraising efforts and wash it in the bath before putting it in the bank. 

Because of their passion and commitment, the Percy Hedley Foundation was founded in 1953 as a special school for children with Cerebral Palsy.  When the first school opened there were only 12 students, one of whom was Stephen Lawrence Darke.  

Stephen Lawrence Darke remained a resident of the Foundation for the rest of his life, residing in Chipchase House, until his death in 2022, aged 80.   

We thank the Darke family for their unwavering support throughout the years. 

See photos of Molly and Stephen Darke, as well as their son Stephen Lawrence Darke throughout the years below:

So, who was Percy Hedley?  

Percy Hedley was a local engineer and was never directly involved with the Foundation. He created a trust – the Percy Hedley Will Trust – and left all his money to charity upon his death. We were one of the lucky three charities who received funding from this trust. 

Take a look at some memorable moments from the past 70 years… 

1954 - Official Opening Ceremony with the Duchess of Kent

Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent in 1954, visited for our official opening ceremony.  

1965 - Started partnering with local business to provide disabled adults with work

In the 1960’s, we teamed up with local businesses such as Proctor & Gamble, Metal Box and Pyrotenax; to create better work opportunities for adults with disabilities that accessed our day service.

1989 – Princess Diana Visits Percy Hedley School

Over the years we’ve welcomed many Royal and famous faces, one of them being HRH Diana, Princess of Wales. Elaine Boyd, a student at Percy Hedley School, wrote to the princess asking if she could come and visit her school and unbelievably, she replied and said yes.

1996 – Stephen Miller, a former Percy Hedley School student, wins gold medals at the Paralympics

Stephen Miller MBE, who attended Percy Hedley School, trained hard to become a 3-time Paralympic gold medal winner in 1996, 2000 and 2004.

2018 – Lost Voice Guys, a former Percy Hedley School student, wins BGT

Lee Ridley, also known as Lost Voice Guy, rose to fame after becoming the first comedian to win Britain’s Got Talent in 2018. Lee has cerebral palsy and attended Percy Hedley School. He uses a communication aid to deliver witty and hilarious jokes as part of his comedy act, often highlighting disability in his set.

2022 - Hedley’s College students become the first disabled young people in Northumbria Police Cadets

Eight of our students at Hedley’s College were sworn in as the first ever to join Volunteer Police Cadets Scheme for those with special needs. In 2023, this partnership was also nominated in the British Diversity Awards as best Community Project.

Help us celebrate

To celebrate this monumental anniversary, we’ve got events and fundraising opportunities throughout the year:


70th Birthday Auction

We start our year of Birthday celebrations with our annual silent auction. From experiences to hotel stays, jewellery to artwork.

Jonny Cycles to Space

In honour of the Foundation turning 70, Jonny Connop is hoping to raise £7070 by cycling 365,000ft in elevation. That’s higher than the beginning of space!

We would love to hear your stories about the Percy Hedley Foundation. From your time going here, working here, volunteering for us or supporting one of your friends or relatives we would love to hear your memories. Share on social media by tagging us in your posts or email your stories to