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Unlocking SEND with Polly Elworthy

This month I catch up with the fabulous Polly Elworthy, founder of SEND Unlocked who deliver an innovative and user-friendly SEND unlocked Directory App, designed to provide information, advice and guidance for accessing the wide range of support, services and opportunities, available to the whole diverse disabled community.

Tell me about yourself

I’m a single Mum of two amazing boys. My older son Cosmo is 24 now and I’m hugely proud of him. He works in London as a Photographer and Director. My younger son Rex was diagnosed autistic when he was 6 – he’s now 13 and has been out of mainstream for several years. My boys are my life and everything in my life is about being Mum first.

What was the first job you had?

My first job was when I was about 14yrs old, working in a farm shop selling potatoes in Buckinghamshire. I remember the farmers would drive up in their trucks and pop off to have coffee and chat with my boss while I’d lug big sacks of potatoes into their trucks for them – and they were HEAVY! 😊

Tell me about SEND unlocked

SEND unlocked is a charity, founded to be a part of the solution for the disability sector.

We deliver the innovative and user-friendly SEND unlocked Directory App, designed to provide information, advice and guidance for accessing the wide range of support, services and opportunities, available to the whole diverse disabled community.

It is designed to be from the perspective of service users, a platform where they can give feedback and get involved in projects.

There are also other tools, such as an area to recommend resources such as books, games, talks or reports that you think may be useful, and we’ve even added a glossary where both organisations and users can add terms and acronyms they feel may be useful to other users.

What inspired you to launch SEND unlocked

When my son Rex was diagnosed with ASD at 6yrs old, I was horrified at the barriers to accessing services, how difficult it was to find the right information and I was struck by how much more knowledge families had than many sector professionals. I wanted to create the platform so that this knowledge could become more widely available.

I also wanted to support a more collaborative environment, where services and service users could come together and where opportunities could be made more widely available. There is a lot of negativity across the sector, but there is also a huge amount of positive work happening which is often overshadowed. I wanted to go out there and find it all, good or bad, and create a way of supporting families to find what they need, and for services to work together collaboratively to improve their delivery.

But at the core of all this positivity is a bit of a terrible truth, and I think many parents and carers will understand this. What runs through my head all the time, is ‘What if I’m not here? If something happens to me, is everything in place for someone else to support him, or when he’s older, for him to be able to access the things he needs without me to fight for him’. It’s a strong driver.

What are your visions and values for SEND unlocked?

Our Vision is really simple: An effective and simple structure of support, accessible to all who need it.

It is not something we could ever achieve on our own. No organisation can deliver everything a family needs, and any who say they can are exaggerating wildly, but I do believe that we can be part of the wider solution to supporting this vision.

Our values are:

Community First: Our key aim is to ensure that every project we undertake and every programme we run puts the members of the disability community first. That is who we are here for.

Collaboration: We believe improved collaboration and communication across the sector is the most effective way to affect change. This includes working with families, schools, local authority, government, charities and businesses.

Honesty, integrity, transparency & accountability: We aim to improve access to processes and services for both users and sector professionals by offering honest and transparent information to all parties.

Creativity and Innovation: We believe the implementation of innovative and creative solutions is necessary to improve access to services. The world has changed, and systems and processes need to change with it.

Knowledge: We believe knowledge is power. Families require knowledge to access support. Organisations require knowledge to deliver effective services.

Who is SEND unlocked for?

Though the acronym SEND is viewed as something which relates more to children the SEND unlocked Directory is NOT limited by age. Our name derives from our starting point as parents of children with additional needs, but as we developed, placing boundaries on the Directory by age made no sense.

The Directory is designed to be for everyone, parents, carers, individuals with disabilities, sector professionals and organisations, to provide information and allow people to review the services, support and products they receive, to share opportunities and to take part in our projects.

How can people access SEND unlocked?

SEND unlocked is available online at our website,, or you can download the app by searching SEND unlocked Directory in your app store.

Who can register their organisation for SEND unlocked?

Any organisation who delivers any service, support, product or opportunity across the sector can register their organisation. There are campaigning groups, peer to peer support, activities, creative arts, sport, therapies, advocacy services, holiday and respite care, employers, even hairdressers, specialist clothing retailers or locations that provide disability access and so much more. And they may offer services to other organisations as well, awarding bodies, training, resources. Anything that is in any way to do with disability.

Once an organisation is approved to the directory, they receive a login and can go in and manage their entry themselves, updating their information as required.

To register visit:

Is there anything else you would like to tell us about SEND unlocked?

SEND unlocked is a platform for the whole community. The more people use it, the more useful it becomes. The more people add and review services, the more other families can make better, more informed decisions. It is not a load of sector professionals and services telling you what they think you need to know, it is you, the user, telling others your experience of specific services, or indeed joining in with our projects, or suggesting projects that you think would be useful.

It is not a social media platform. We didn’t want to duplicate Twitter or Facebook, we wanted to collate factual information into a format that would help people find what they need.

Can you describe a typical day?

Hah, this is a short one. Work and boys. That is my life. I work, and when the boys need me I’m Mum, and then I go back to work again. Building a charity is hard, fundraising is really hard, surviving while you do it is hard – and so outside of the children, my life is spent working. I tend to average about 12 hr days, I work during school hours, I work at night. Any spare hour that the boys don’t want or need me, is dedicated to delivering the Directory. There’s no time for anything else.

What is your favourite thing about your job?

It’s really easy to get bogged down in the hard bits and believe me, I have my moments. But my favourite thing is the potential. The excitement of coming up with new projects, new ideas, new areas of the Directory which could make a difference. The innovation, the creativity and the possibilities is really exciting. I mean, imagine, the biggest database in the country of families and individuals with disabilities, and the sector professionals who support them, all coming together to comment on the issues that affect them today. There is true strength in numbers, and if used positively, the opportunities for equal access to education and employment could be immense. 😊 Hah, I’m going off on one now. But that’s my favourite thing, the possibilities.

What is your proudest career moment?

You know, I’ve had a lot, I worked in the military charity sector before this and every time a veteran said, I don’t need you now, I can do this on my own, was a highlight, every project I built (all around education and employment) was something I was proud of, but I think maybe my proudest moment was the first time an organisation registered on the Directory. We were just getting going, tiny and with no knowledge of whether it would work out, but I felt fit to burst.

Are you working on any exciting projects?

We have 2 projects we’re just launching at the moment:

1. The first is a review of local authority and SENDiass Services. Users can register and go and review their local services – it’s not a big questionnaire, just 5 questions to rate the service and then they can write a review. We’re looking for the best local authorities in the country as we want to understand why they’re successful.

2. The second is one I’m really excited about. We’re building a First Steps project for families as they start their journey to access support, we want to know what is the one piece of advice families wish they’d received as they start out navigating their journey to accessing support. We’re going to collate it all into First Steps advice for families from the people who really know.

What advice would you give to parents/carers of children/teenagers/adults with special educational/additional needs?

All services are evidenced based. If you walk into any supporting organisation and just say, we need help, they’ll want detail to understand why. Don’t forget, those working their socks off to deliver services, are dealing with all the barriers too, and the more information you have to support your request, the more you make it possible for them to support you. So I would recommend to:

1. Keep a log of everything, a book, or folder etc, where you write down every day, anything that happens that is relevant. Dates, times, triggers, outcomes, behavioural traits, issues you have with access, even extra costs, any little bit of information to support your needs.

2. Any telephone call or meeting you have with anyone, confirm it afterwards in an email, so that you have a log of the discussion in writing and they have the opportunity to respond if they don’t agree with your assessment of the conversation – and keep it all together in a folder so you can find it easily.

3. Stay calm and polite. It’s very easy to become emotional when you feel like you’re being knocked back all the time, whether it’s for yourself or your family member. But no-one

can hang up on you or refuse to continue a conversation if, while you’re reading them the riot act you’re doing it calmly and politely! This is the hardest one to pull off, but it is very much worth it.

Which three historical figures would you invite for supper and why?

1. Elon Musk – he’s still alive but definitely going down in history – I’m a geek at heart, and the man is king of the geeks – and I have questions about Mars!

2. Leonardo Da Vinci – I think he’d likely be fascinating – what a mind to explore!

3. Marie Curie – the only person (not woman – person regardless of gender) to receive Nobel prizes for two different sciences, said something that I love, and I think we’ve forgotten today “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” Very cool woman!

You have a time machine set with two trips. Where are you going?

Ooh – I’m a sci-fi nut so I’d going 500 years into the future to see if we’re an interplanetary species yet!

And if I could drag myself away from the future, I’m a fan of Jane Austen so I’d head to the Assembly rooms for a waltz with a handsome stranger (not that I have any clue how to waltz of course 😊)

What three items would you take to a desert island?

1. I’d take Elon Musk (he’s like the real-life MacGyver!) to ensure I had someone with a big brain who could sort out accommodations and food – and he’s nice to look at too!

2. I’d take the bible, even though I’m not religious, it is a huge book, full of amazing stories and it takes some work to get through it – it would last a good long while to ease boredom.

3. I’d let Elon choose number 3 – no doubt there’s some amazing tool which would support the building of the house/finding of food etc 😊

If you had a super-power what would it be?

This sparked a great debate with Rex. I said I’d like to know if people are telling the truth, and he said that would be ‘horrible’ because people lie about personal things and nobody wants to know that much about themselves! 😊

He said becoming a shapeshifter who takes on the skills of the person or thing you turn into – so turn into a bird you could fly, or turn into a brilliant computer programmer, you could programme with ease etc. That was something that honestly hadn’t crossed my mind – but it’s a very cool superpower so I’m stealing it from him!

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I’d give myself a Buddhist quote that I love:

'Holding Onto Anger Is Like Drinking Poison and Expecting the Other Person to Die.'

Basically, let it go! So many people ruin their lives looking back at the bad things that happen and who they blame for them. It colours your whole world. Walk away, move forward, don’t let yourself get bitter or stay angry. It’s poison!

...and your motto Polly?

Well I don’t have one of my own, but the quote I keep on my phone for reference when things get really difficult, is a quote by Elon Musk (because I’m clearly a fan). ‘When something is important enough you do it, even if the odds aren’t in your favour’.

Social media links

If anyone would like to donate they can visit:

Register your Organisation:

Download the app from the app store


Thank you Polly:)

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