A man in the foreground on the left smiles at the camera as he cuts a blue ribbon. In the background, staff, students and guests wave their hands to in celebration.
His Majesty’s Deputy Lieutenant Philip Bostock OBE (left) cuts the ribbon to signify the official opening of the Fearnside facility.

A pioneering residential and learning centre for young Deaf adults – the only of its kind in the country – has been officially opened in Devon.

The Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Devon, Philip Bostock OBE DL conducted the opening ceremony at Fearnside House, a former convent, which has been converted by the Exmouth-based Deaf Academy, to provide a high quality facility for its older students to learn and live.

The ceremony was attended by staff, students and VIPs – which included four sisters from the Holy Family Sisters who used to live in the Convent (pictured below).

Four of the sisters from the Holy Family Sisters were in attendance at the event.

The Academy, which is a charity, purchased the former convent to meet the demand of an increasing number of students following its move from Exeter to Exmouth in 2020. The centre has been named in honour of Anita Fearnside, a resident of Exmouth who left a significant legacy to the charity, which supported the purchase of the property. It now provides a 10-bed residential and learning space for Deaf students aged between 19 and 25.

In thanking everyone who made the vision a reality, the Deaf Academy’s Chair of Trustees Dame Angela Pedder said: “Our buildings underpin our objectives to develop students’ confidence, show them their value in the world and help them believe they can achieve anything. This incredible, high quality new 19-25 adult residential and learning centre can help us do just that.”

Sylvan Dewing, Principal of the Deaf Academy, said: “It was wonderful to celebrate the opening of Fearnside House. We are absolutely delighted with the finished building. Our students deserve high quality care and to live and thrive in an environment where they can receive all the support they need to prepare them for their next steps into independent living and employment.”

“We are very grateful to Anita Fearnside whose significant legacy enabled this project. We would also like to thank the generous organisations who have supported us with grant funding.”

The project has been supported by grants from the Bernard Sunley Foundation, the Garfield Weston Foundation, Laing Family Trusts and the Bradbury Foundation, Hong Kong.

 The Academy has developed a new post 19 curriculum that helps students to develop their skills, whilst having a strong focus on preparing for employment and for adulthood, which will be followed by students based at the centre.

 Sylvan added: “It’s our aim to help our students become confident, independent and proud of who they are. We want to enable them to contribute positively to our community and this wonderful new residential provision will help us to achieve that aim.”

 Prior to September 2023 the Academy’s 19 to 25-year-old students stayed in its residential building, which accommodates its younger students in adjoining buildings on the main campus.

Staff members and students who live and work at Fearnside House were excited to celebrate the official opening of this facility.

Students Hugh, 24, and Timothy, 19, both live in Fearnside House and study at the Bradbury Learning Centre, which is within the property and has been named following funding from the Bradbury Foundation, Hong Kong.

 Hugh said: “I enjoy cooking in the large kitchen space, having more independence and learning and socialising in a more adult environment.”

 Timothy said: “I like it here because the communication is a lot better and I have more friends. I like the humour and banter and it makes me feel happy. Having Fearnside House means we can be more independent and feel more adult.

 “We can socialise more and learn skills that will help us later in life, like cooking, budgeting and computer skills. We learn real-life skills that are relevant to the workplace, and I can use my BSL (British Sign Language) in a working environment.”