Giving children a new voice

5 November 2019 | London and South East England 

Margaret Walker

The creator of a new language programme transforming lives for half a century

People with speech difficulties from more than 50 countries – including more than a million children and adults in the UK – are able to communicate thanks to Margaret Walker, 2019’s Pride of Britain Special Recognition award winner.

The 80-year-old former speech therapist developed Makaton, a unique language programme, in the 1970s. Her aim was to transform the lives of those who would otherwise be isolated and frustrated due to an inability to communicate.

Margaret came up with the idea while working as a senior speech therapist at Botley Park Hospital in Surrey. “I had worked in a school for profoundly deaf children before and that was what inspired me,” she explains. The patients, some of whom were classed as “mentally deficient”, were expected to only communicate through speech – something which some of them were simply unable to do.

Margaret Walker pull quote

After a patient bit her, Margaret realised that this was causing incidents that could potentially be avoided. She began to identify around 350 essential concepts, which all her residents used to communicate. These were then used as the basis of Makaton.

She would go on to share her new language with a new generation of teachers from her own living room. One of that first wave of instructors included one Justin Fletcher, who is known to today’s children as CBBC’s Mr Tumble.

Unlike British Sign Language, Makaton is always used in conjunction with speech. Today Margaret’s work is also used extensively in Children’s TV programmes to help with language development. And if you want to help Makaton transform more lives? Margaret asks you just continue to spread the word about this amazing language system.

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