Red Balloon: A different approach to education

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Red Balloon provides an alternative to mainstream education for children who can’t cope with school. Find out more.

Social Problem

Mainstream education doesn’t suit all children. Some struggle in busy, noisy environments due to sensory issues; some have been badly bullied; and others can’t cope in school due to anxiety, childhood trauma or other issues. If a child refuses to go to school, they miss out on an education, friendships and social interaction. This has repercussions throughout their life.


Red Balloon offers alternative education for children who have self-excluded from mainstream school. Class sizes are small and focused on the individual student. Alongside lessons, pupils receive therapy and take part in wellbeing activities, such as non-competitive sports.

Cathy Taylor, Executive Head of Red Balloon NW London, says, “It can sometimes take up to a year to coax children out of their bedrooms and get them to Red Balloon. Once they're here, they choose their own curriculum. Red Balloon classes are held in houses, so the school feels really homely and cosy. There isn’t a uniform and staff dress casually. The main aim is for education to stop feeling threatening.

“Most students come to us midway through secondary school and stay until the end of Year 11. However, we’re seeing younger children joining us at primary school age. That’s partly due to better referral pathways, but it’s also due to children struggling to transition back into school after the pandemic.”


Red Balloon NW London wanted to expand, which meant buying another property. Cathy shares, “The building we bought was basically un-mortgageable because we could only get permission for change of use – from a home to a school – if we agreed that only Red Balloon could use the property. If a bank were to repossess it, they'd have to put another planning application in before they could sell it. So most lenders weren’t willing to offer us a loan.

Charity Bank worked with Cathy to find a solution. The loan was taken out against another property, which was owned outright by Red Balloon NW London. We also organised an additional unsecured loan from NatWest’s Social and Community Capital fund.

“Charity Bank worked with us in a really creative way to come up with a funding plan. They were instrumental to the purchase. We had a relationship manager, Wesley Lovett, who really supported the whole process and took a lot of the stress away.”

Cathy Taylor, Executive Head of Red Balloon NW London


Red Balloon NW London is now running classes from the new property, enabling around 30 children to get an education. The impact for students is far-reaching. Not only are they able to gain qualifications that could lead to college or employment, they’re also making new friends and gaining more resilience to enable them to reintegrate into society.

“I feel privileged that my child has a place at this school. I don't think I would have the same girl today if she remained at her previous school. I genuinely believe this school is a lifesaver for my child.”

The parent of a Red Balloon NW London pupil

About Charity Bank

Charity Bank is the loans and savings bank owned by and committed to supporting the social sector. Since 2002, we have used our savers’ money to make more than 1,200 loans totalling over £450m to housing, education, social care, community and other social purpose organisations.

Find out more about us here.

Nothing in this article constitutes an invitation to engage in investment activity nor is it advice or a recommendation and professional advice should be taken before any course of action is pursued.