Brooklands Sensory Garden Project

Skipton, North Yorkshire

Your story

We are a group of very motivated volunteers, who have come together to help improve the lives of children living with disabilities and special needs within our local community. We are doing this by developing a sensory garden at Brooklands Special School in Skipton.

Previous to the start of our project, the school had a large garden space but it was largely unusable for wheelchair users and also, as the garden was empty, provided little or no stimuli for the children. By embarking on this project, we are transforming this space to enhance the children’s learning, development and wellbeing through embracing nature. Our journey really began by spotting a need in the local community and taking some ownership to work towards resolving it.

Group introduction

We are currently 1 year into the project and have a planned completion date of September 2017. To date, we have raised £8,000 through many self-organised events, to the credit of all our generous volunteers, which has all gone into purchasing equipment, plants and materials needed for renovating the garden and creating this amazing space. All of the design and manual work in the garden has been undertaken within the same group of volunteers and we do not use our funds to pay for any labour that we can complete ourselves. The only labour costs we have paid to date has been fitting the equipment such as raised beds.

To complete the garden to our desired standard, we need to raise a further £2,000; we have planned a further calendar of fundraising activities however we know this won’t come easily. Aside from funding, our volunteers to date have collectively given a colossal commitment of time and energy. This is set to continue. The fundraising activities have been and will continue to be running throughout the year and as the weather has recently improved, the gardeners in the team have been able to get back to the manual work once again this year.

Our group has a few prominent ‘project leads’, including Terry Done, Michelle Harrison and Michelle Matthews, who have been pivotal to motivating everyone and making sure progress continues. Having said that, it has been and continues to be a huge one team effort from everyone, with varying levels of input and skills, from fundraising to the hard graft of digging! We have also had huge support from the wider community and the school of course, who are absolutely bowled over by our generosity and commitment to helping them. The headteacher, Denise Samsom retired last year and she has donated an outdoor ‘storytelling’ armchair for the children to enjoy outdoor reading activities once the garden is complete.

It is also worth noting that the volunteer team has grown significantly throughout the project, initially beginning with around 5 colleagues from the same team within Skipton Building Society. As word spread, and more people heard about the fantastic work that had been started, colleagues from other teams and even friends and family joined in. That’s when the project started to gain real traction.

We’re now a very close-knit team, who support each other and equally contribute together. We take great pride in the work we’re doing and make sure it gets the time and effort it deserves and also find it’s helping us individually to develop our range of skills on a broader scale.

How would this funding have an impact on your community?

The total estimated funds needed to complete the garden are £10,000, with a remaining £2,000 left to raise. This funding would clearly not cover this whole of the outstanding cost, however it would go quite some way to helping us achieve this target and in doing so enable us to complete the garden on time.

At the moment we are waiting on funds to accumulate, through our many fundraising initiatives, in order to buy the materials necessary to progress to the next stage of the project. We have already purchased the raised beds, which enable children in wheelchairs to reach to touch and smell the plants, benches for non-wheelchair children to sit and enjoy the garden, very well thought out plants for each area to fit in with our 'zones' of smell, taste, touch, sight and sound and also colourful boards to reflect light. However, there’s so much more we would like to do to complete the garden, we have created a comprehensive plan, alongside one of our ‘project leads’ Michelle Matthews, who is a horticulturist and has offered her services completely voluntarily.

If successful, the funds would pay for the final set of materials which are interactive and educational structures. We have come across a few barriers to date, specifically in relation to funding as we were able to source or make equipment for the garden quite cheaply using local contacts and resources. However, as the materials will be part of the school grounds, there are many health and safety standards we have to comply with; as such we are limited to purchasing specialist furniture, treated wood and materials that our school's governors approved. This drives the cost up significantly and as such we are constantly assessing new and innovative ideas to raise funds and are determined not to let this get in our way. We are even hoping to use the Skipton 'knit and knatter' group to help us to make some 'yarn balls' to hang from bushes and trees, to decorate the garden on the opening day!

Once complete, the garden will be a safe haven in which the children of Brooklands Special School can enjoy and flourish within for years to come. Currently the school has 55 children and young people on roll aging from 5 to 19, they can stay an extra year at special schools rather than leaving at 18 as they do in mainstream schools, however the impact of our project is in no way limited to these children as it will change the school’s facilities permanently. It will also enable the teachers of Brooklands School to support the children’s needs in a much better environment and provide comfort to the families of children with disabilities and special needs, that the local school has excellent facilities to support their children.

""They came, they saw, and they are still conquering where other groups came and gave up because to make a lovely garden fit for our special needs pupils, will take a lot of time and energy. Many of our pupils benefit from sensory experiences in so many different ways such as enhancing learning, but also calming and relaxing anxious young people with autism.

We believe this group, from Skipton Building Society, deserve all the accolades and awards they can get for their persistence, care and perfection that they continue to strive for." - Denise Sansom, previous Head Teacher of Brooklands Special School in Skipton."

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