A special school for youngsters forced out of mainstream education by bullying officially opens in Harrow today (Thursday).
The new Red Balloon Learner Centre, in Kenton Road, Kenton, is the third of its kind in the UK and has been set up by Dr Carrie Herbert, winner of the 2008 Inspirational Woman of the Year Award.
The centre offers a safe place for teenagers too frightened to go to school but who still want to learn and make new friends.
The first centre was set up at Dr Herbert's Cambridge home in 1996. The former English and drama teacher-turned-mentor remembers sitting in her living room with a girl who had ben bullied so badly she had taken an overdose.
The 57-year-old said: "At that time I was an educational consultant and running my own business. Every so often I would go into a school and I would hear about a child not in education because of bullying and I thought: something has to be done about this.
"One morning a girl came to my house very upset. We talked and that is really how it all started. Before I knew I had ten pupils and ten members of staff all in my house."
There are now three schools in the country, in Cambridge, Norwich and Harrow. The school takes its name from the French film Le Ballon Rouge, in which a boy is befriended and followed round Paris by a red balloon.
Dr Herbert said: "The students still continue their education at the centres. These are people who want to learn. They have lessons in the key subjects - English, maths, science - and we also offer other lessons like music art and media studies. They also receive a lot of councilling. We do lots of work one-on-one and teach them about how to deal with situations."
The centre aims to improve the students' self-esteem and get them back into education. A pupil is funded by the council, which is informed if a child is not going to school.
Alexandra Flatman, co-ordinator at the Harrow centre, is delighted to be working at the school. She said: "This job is so rewarding. Because we are a small organisation we really get to know the students. We see them change and develop into more confident people.
"Red Balloon is so unique and it is a really exciting time to join because we are expanding."
There are already plans to open more Red Balloon Learner Centres around the country. For more information call 01223 366 052 or the Harrow centre on 0208 864 6433.
Around 31 per cent of children experience bullying during childhood, while 14 per cent are made to feel different or like an outsider.
Children abused or neglected by their parents are more likely to experience bullying.
A quarter of adults who were bullied as children say they went on to suffer long-term emotional effects.
About a third of boys and a quarter of girls admit they have bullied other children.
A third of victims aged 10 to 14 do not tell anyone about their problem.
One in five 11- to 19-year-olds experience bullying or threats via e-mail, internet chatrooms or text message.