A SPEECH and language therapy assistant who works with special schools in Bolton has become a YouTube sensation among youngsters during the pandemic.

The Bolton NHS Foundation Trust’s Nikki Magari launched her own sign language channel on the media platform and started posting signing videos to keep in touch with the special schools community amid the crisis.

Her videos have proved to be a hit and now she has hundreds of followers, making her feel like a “popstar”.

Nikki has worked for 12 years in speech and language therapy, at schools such as Ladywood, Firwood and Thomasson but, like most, she has found that the pandemic has brought many challenges with it.

Reflecting on the closures of schools in March, Nikki said: “It was a massive shock to be honest.

"When it started murmuring that they might be closing schools I remember sitting in the office thinking ‘there’s no way they are going to close schools down, they just can’t.

“The next minute, it’s like Friday we are closing and that’s it. We were like ‘Oh! What are we going to do? How are we going to see these children?’

"Everything turned upside down.

“It was a bit difficult, particularly with our children, who sign, they rely on that total communication environment which they don’t always get at home, so that was a big barrier.

"Initially for the first few weeks I was office based and there were discussions such as 'How can we reach these families? How can we do things differently?’

"I started through my school making signing videos.

"I’d always recorded a signing of the week video for school anyway, which went on the weekly blog.

“I was always a part of assemblies and the Christmas performance, I always sign at the front and the children copy, so I thought ‘What can I do with the signing element?’

"So I started making videos of different songs.

"The first one I did was the Ladywood song and the school posted that out on their Facebook page and there was a really big response, parents said how much the children loved it, and it was so nice to see something familiar.

"From that I kind of said maybe this is the way forward.”

Nikki took to YouTube to engage the special schools community and beyond with her inspirational and innovative signing videos.

Using "Signalong", the method used across all schools in Bolton who have been trained by Bolton’s paediatric speech and language therapy service, "The Little Signing Workshop" now has hundreds of followers and is gaining great feedback from across the spectrum.

She said: “I do four videos a week now, I do a sign of the week on the Monday, where I choose a particular topic.

"This week we have done school because everybody is going back to school.

“I do a general pop song on a Wednesday, then a nursery rhyme, something for the little ones, on a Friday and then we do a story on a Sunday.

"It is quite busy and that has kind of kept me going.

“You feel like a child’s entertainer at times. It is very strange.

"I don’t like being on camera, I get quite shy, so when I look back at my first videos you can see the difference to now.

"Now I feel like a popstar sometimes, I have got to kind of put that aside and know that I need to do this for the children.

“My followers have increased weekly and then I have had lots of comments on my posts and videos, with people saying it is really helpful, that my child loves it.

"It is not just children with special needs, typical children have been doing it, practising and learning or they have got a friend at school who uses sign and this has really helped them.

"It has been good, and I think it has been good for parents to learn and to support their child while they are at home.”