The future of one of the UK's oldest special needs brands, Widgit Software, has finally been secured following a round of bidding for the assets of parent company Logotron.
While liquidators Begbies Traynor will not issue a statement until the disposal of all Logotron assets is finalised, it is understood that a consortium which includes the originial Widgit founders, the Detheridge family, and Terry Johnson, former partner in the successful US symbol company Mayer-Johnson, has signed a contract for the Widgit brand and assets.
Software companies come and go, but Widgit had been a fixed feature in special needs education for more than 30 years, a period packed with changes. When Mike and Tina Detheridge founded Widgit in 1982 BBC computers were the dominant school machines.
The Detheridges steered their Symbols communication software through Acorn Archimedes computers, PCs, the age of the CD-Rom and the rise of the internet – and those are just the changes to mainstream school computing. When you look at assistive technology the progress is even more mind-blowing.
AssistiveWare's Proloquo2go won the BETT Special Needs Award this year. It's an app that can be used on an iPad or iPhone. It uses symbols and speech to give a voice to people who have a brain injury or a disability such as cerebral palsy which makes it hard for them to talk. When Widgit started trading there were no mobile phones and few homes had video recorders! Many school leavers with disabilities moved on to industrial units or day centres and if they could not speak they were often left with no other means of communication.
Widgit's Symbols are used in schools and hospitals, and for 17 languages
Widgit made Symbols widely available so they stopped being part of the special school classroom and started to be used in hospitals, primary schools and for people who needed support when learning English as an additional language (EAL). They also stopped being 'English'. In 1997 they did their first symbol set in Dutch and this was quickly followed by symbols for Norwegian and Swedish. Now you can have symbols in 17 languages. They are also used for visitor information at the Eden Project in Cornwall.
In 2001 Widgit had grown from Mike and Tina Detheridge and a part-time book keeper to 15 employees and they had outgrown the family home. They needed separate premises in Cubbington in Warwickshire. Their son, Simon, had turned out to be a gifted programmer and daugher Cate took over the design of new symbols.
It seemed timely to look to the future and ensure that the growing business was secure. So they merged the business with Logotron, famed for its work with LOGO. But this came to grief in August this year when liquidators Begbies Traynor were appointed to wind up the affairs of Logotron and find buyers for the assets of Widgit, Logotron and Speedwell.
While many were interested in the Widgit assets, it was feared that few companies would have been committed to the development work required to keep symbols at the forefront of special education. Many commentators were concerned that the Widgit brand could become static and not keep pace with the technology of tomorrow.
Now, Widgit is back under the control of a consortium made up of the Detheridges, Terry Johnson and other investors who share their ethos, operating through a new company, Symbols Worldwide Ltd. While it will take them a while to get back to normal, customers can rest assured that they will have a watchful eye on future developments, so that, in years to come, Widgit symbols will still meet the needs of users in the workplace, in the classroom and for leisure activities both at home and abroad.
Tina Detheridge commented: "It's fabulous. What we always wanted was to build Widgit. It's our life's work and to have it back under our control is fantastic. We have a stunning future and brilliant technology on the horizon. Despite the current economic situation we are very confident. We're back."
Sally McKeown is a freelance writer and is an expert in special needs and inclusion