John Swinney and Leon – a meeting of minds

To begin with, Leon wasn’t at all sure he wanted to chat with the tall visitor in a suit. It hadn’t been his best morning, and he needed a little encouragement to talk about his interests and talents to John Swinney, Scotland’s Deputy First Minister.

Mr Swinney was visiting Harmeny in his capacity as Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills as part of a programme of visits to grant-aided special schools to further his understanding of the sector. Meeting Leon gave Mr Swinney the opportunity to understand Harmeny’s particular strengths firsthand.

As the Minister continued his tour of the school, meeting members of the care team in recently refurbished Hawthorn cottage, Leon ran into the lounge. “Is that guy still here?” he asked. “I’ve just met his driver.” The driver was “cool” and the ice was now broken. Perhaps Mr Swinney recalled the earlier words of Margery Browning, Chair of Harmeny’s Board – “We work on a relational model, and the first thing is to establish trust between our children and adults.”

As the tour continued, Leon became Mr Swinney’s guide, introducing him proudly as “the second Prime Minister”.

“Is there a good choice of outdoor activities to do here?” Mr Swinney asked him.
“Definitely”, Leon replied. “If you look on the wall behind you, there’s loads of pictures.”

“I like kayaking more than canoeing”, Leon continued.
“What’s the difference?”
“In a canoe you need to communicate more.” And Leon described how he and his friends had once fallen out of their canoe because he’d been jiggling around too much. “I was trying to have a laugh – but it was a mistake.” Asked how they recovered from the incident, Leon was clear: “Communication and teamwork.”

Once again Margery Browning’s words were being echoed – about the need for children at Harmeny to learn about friendship and peer support. John Swinney heard this from Leon, and in the way other children he met praised their friends – “He’s good at PowerPoint”, said one; “He’s really good on a Pogo stick”, commented another.

“You’re designing the journey”, Mr Swinney said as he summed up his visit, “and it’s not the same for every child. It’s marvellous to see what you do and how lives have been transformed as a result.”

The visit now over, Mr Swinney still had a long afternoon ahead of him back at Holyrood for an afternoon debate. As he left, Leon ran after him holding out packets of biscuits. Some were for Mr Swinney – perhaps they’d keep him going – but, more importantly, some were for his driver.

Trust and hospitality – gifts from Leon to Scotland’s Deputy First Minister.