HEARTFELT tributes have been paid to a “talented” teacher who inspired special needs students to embrace their love of music.

Val Wilcox has died after a battle with Parkinson’s disease. The teacher worked with David Stanley BEM as part of the hugely successful Music Man Project in Southend, as well as spending 20 years working at the Lancaster School in Prittlewell Chase, Westcliff.

Mr Stanley said: “She was my co-tutor and we taught together with the Southend Mencap Music School.

“She was a huge inspiration to me, she was very creative, talented and hard-working. She loved her students and performing.

“She was a bit of dancer herself and was a delight to work with. She was the perfect person to help me in the early days.

“We will perform at her funeral on July 4 at Southend Crematorium and will sing Love Shine A Light, which is one she taught students.

“She was a real support to me and will be sadly missed by everyone. Our students know and remember working with her.”

Mr Stanley is the founder of the Music Man Project, a disability-friendly music group based in Southend, that was set up in 2000.

After being founded more than 20 years ago now, the group has performed across the UK as well as further afield in countries such as the USA, Nepal, India, South Africa, and the Philippines.

Nathan Cresswell, deputy headteacher at Lancaster School, said: “Val Wilcox was a valued member of staff at Lancaster School.

“Val was the music and drama teacher here for nearly 20 years and she really raised the profile of performance and creativity for the young people here.

“Productions included her own take on Oliver Twist, various pantomimes and she also took groups out to perform in venues around the area including being involved in the choir for the Olympic torch parade through Southend.

“Val was an inspirational colleague and I hope that we continue to maintain her passion for the arts by encouraging students to regularly perform both in school and in local venues.”