Something Special is a multi-award winning organisation for people living with living disabilities - that’s the official blurb, but in truth it’s so much more.
For those using the charity it’s the place they feel at home, and where they get to express themselves in a safe environment.
It’s based in new premises at the old Craigback Primary School outside Eglinton, and with the new premises also comes a new project.
Awarded £40,000 from the Legacy Fund for Derry, they are embarking on producing and performing a one-of-a-kind musical at the Millennium Forum on 30th June. They have the script-writer appointed and with the script comes a gruelling four months ahead for the team, as they work hard to meet the high standards they expect of themselves.
The script-writer is Conor Doherty, who himself is just 18. He started volunteering at Something Special last year and has found that the people, and the ethos, within the group are what brings him here.
“I would consider everyone here my friends now, and particularly Sorcha, who is the main focus of the musical.”
Sorcha is 23 and a member of Something Special. Diagnosed with Autism, Sorcha didn’t speak until she was nearly five, and when the first words came out of her mouth, she sang them.
Her mother Ann remembers it very clearly. “The radio was on and Sorcha suddenly started to sing ‘High’ by the Lighthouse Family. After being non-verbal for so long I knew then, in that moment, that she would talk some day.”
That story is the main focus of the musical Conor is putting together. “Sorcha is at the heart of the musical. We’ve incorporated other back stories too but Sorcha is the main character.”
And with good reason, as it transpires that Sorcha has a voice which needs to be heard to be believed. She is also now completely vocal, and she’s quick to squash any notion that her and her contemporaries at Something Special can be walked over.
“There’s a scene in the play that will include a lot of words printed on boards that we will walk through - abusive and derogatory terms. The idea is to get across that all we want is to be treated with respect and not to be patronised. The ‘R’ word is also very offensive.”
The ‘R’ word Sorcha refers to is ‘retard’ and it’s labels like this that the play hopes to discredit.
Conor explains, “Sorcha is now very much her own person, and so many other young people who come to Something Special have so much to give. The play will have a lot of performers, but if anyone wants to be based backstage that’s where they will be. It’s about giving them a choice - and the story shows that Sorcha has developed so much over the years.
“All of the students here are so talented. I’m not surprised but I am impressed.
“More than anything though I’m proud of them. I fully trust that they will give their all when the rehearsals start.
“I think there are probably mainstream actors that wouldn’t work to such a tight schedule. Dancers here take on the steps so quickly, and the singers including Sorcha have incredible talent.
“The story focuses on how people are not defined by their mental health and it’s been important to me to centre it around a true story like Sorcha’s.”
The Funding Manager at Something Special, Mary Lynch, became a volunteer with the group after her son joined.
“There was nothing like this when John was younger. He’s 29 now and he loves it here. The benefits it gives him are immeasurable. He has more confidence and it proves that with the right help and support he, and the other members, can achieve a lot of things.
“The founder Denise White has also set up a partnership with the Ulster University, and it was John’s dream to go to university; now he goes every Thursday.”
It’s such a transformation for the young man who Mary was told would never talk or walk.
Now, John, along with the rest of participants at Something Special, will be proving that they can produce a top-level performance like anyone else - and it promises to be a show worth seeing.
‘Sorcha’s story - a musical’ will be performed at the Millennium Forum on June 30th.