SWL’s unsung heroes: Founder of Wandsworth nursery nominated to attend prestigious US embassy event


Anita Coppola is the Head of Services at Small Steps.


By Molly Kersey

A nomination to attend an prestigious event is the next step for the inspirational founder of a disabled children’s charity.

Anita Coppola MBE is the Head of Services at Small Steps, a school which provides specialist help and support to parents with disabled children aged from birth to five years old. 

She has recently been nominated to attend a US Embassy event ahead of the new American Embassy building being built in the Nine Elms on London’s South Bank.

In a bid to meet their new neighbours, an appeal was sent out for nominations of exceptional people in Wandsworth to attend the Embassy event, and Anita was quickly nominated by the Small Steps team as someone who has gone the extra mile to help the local community.    

“It would be an absolutely fantastic opportunity for raising the profile, taking the next step up,” said Anita.

“We’re very proud of what we do.”

Founded in 1998, Small Steps began with a classroom of just three children, and there are now over 50 children on roll.

Working with children with cerebral palsy as well as covering a spectrum of other forms of motor impairment, syndromes or sensory impairment, the charity uses conductive education principles to guide parents in how to help their children achieve the next stages in their development.

“Parents are very hands on,” said Anita. “It’s hard work but rewarding”

“It’s a very emotional journey for them.”

Anita added that the work carried out with parents is a balancing act between focusing on the positives and knowing that sometimes it’s ok to have a bit of a cry.

As well as working with Small Steps, Anita also trains other professionals in Disability Awareness, provides Outreach to a number of Small Steps children and volunteers as an advisor to the Hill Park Autistic Trust. 

In 2012 Anita was awarded an MBE from the Prince of Wales for ‘Services to Special Education’ for her wonderful work with Small Steps. The award came as a huge surprise to Anita, who did not know she had been nominated.

“It was completely bizarre because I knew absolutely nothing about it!” Anita explained. 

“It was also very emotional because I hasn’t realised what other people thought about what I do.”

Children who attend Small Steps take part in a group session once a week, either with their parent or their carer.

A team of teachers, physiotherapists and conductors carries out a programme which helps with the development of physical skills as well as teaching social, communication and sensory skills and educational learning. 

Ivana, mother of Luca who graduated from Small Steps in spring 2013, said in a testimonial written to the charity: “Small Steps was an amazing experience for Luca and I, we will not forget all the help you gave us!”

“For me Small Steps taught me ways to interact with my son, and gave me confidence handling him, you helped me through a difficult time, simply by being there every week.

“I would come feeling worried and by the end of the session I would feel positive and like Luca could do anything. I can’t thank you enough!”

Small steps receive a large number of visitors and adopt an open door policy where anyone is welcome and the human interaction and personal element of their work is very important. 

“I spend a lot of time talking to people,” said Anita.

Now in their 17th year, the charity seeks to raise £23,000 a month. This is done through grants and donations, and some parents whose children attend Small Steps have also carried out fund raising activities to help contribute.

Amazingly, Anita remains very modest about the exceptional work that she does for both the children and parents who come to Small Steps.

“I get on and do what I do.”  

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