Dual-Purpose Sensory Room & Multi-Sensory Pool at The New Pioneer School, Basildon

A recent move to new purpose-built premises was the perfect opportunity to upgrade the existing facilities for the staff at the Pioneer School in Basildon, Essex. The new Pioneer School is a Model Special School catering for 90 children in the age range of 3 to 13 years and 80 pupils in the age range of 14 to 25 years with SLD, PMLD and ASD. SpaceKraft designed and installed a dual-purpose sensory room with an unusual sunken waterbed in the floor and also equipped the school's new swimming pool with Sensory Show Magic interactive sound and lighting.

Sensory teacher Helen Carpenter explains how plans for the sensory room developed. "At our old premises we had a room that had some SpaceKraft lighting in it but we didn't actually have a full White Room. For the new building we decided to install what is technically three sensory rooms: a tactile room, a teaching sensory room and a relaxation sensory room. What we decided to do was bring all our old equipment from the other site and put it in the teaching sensory room.

Because that room is for teaching cause and effect it was important to keep it to the basics, light and dark and so on, and the existing equipment was ideal for that. What that enabled us to do was to spend all the money we had allocated to us for the new site on a complete new fitted room from SpaceKraft which included three bubble tubes, a fibre-optic curtain and the waterbed. SpaceKraft fitted everything before we moved in here so there was no disruption to the school during the installation."

Within the limited space available for the main sensory room, SpaceKraft developed an effective dual-purpose room which doubles as both a tactile room, providing a variety of sensory stimulation effects, and a chill-out room, which provides a calming and relaxing environment. One unusual aspect of the room was prompted by a structural feature of the new school building, as Helen explains. "Because we've got overhead ceiling tracking in all our rooms, we have no mobile hoists at all, so therefore we didn't need any space under the waterbed to put mobile hoist legs. So we sunk the waterbed into the floor and now we've got no risk of the children falling off."

In the months since the new Pioneer School opened, the dual-purpose sensory room has proven to be a highlight of the new building, popular with both the children and the staff. "It's all working out really well and the kids really love it in there," says Helen. "Our old bubble tube at the previous site was just a market-bought one and it was very small, so coming here and having three big bubble tubes - one with bubbles, one with beads and one with balls - is something completely different for them."

In addition to the sensory room, SpaceKraft also designed and installed their Sensory Show Magic interactive sound and lighting system in the new swimming pool. "Our previous swimming pool had a perspex roof so it was very, very light during school hours and you couldn't have music in there because you just couldn't hear it," Helen recalls. "We knew at a very early stage that SpaceKraft would be coming in and setting up the Show Magic system in the pool, so it was built into the planning of the room that we would be able to darken it so we'd be able to have the coloured lights on and have a proper sound system in there.

"For our less able children, it adds another sensory dimension to swimming. Since we've been in here it's all been working out really well, particularly for those who are wary of swimming pools and water. A lot of those kids are the ones that have got sensory impairments but they're used to the lights, so that's been able to calm them enough that they're not then having the fear of the water and being in the pool. They love the fact that they're moving around more because they can chase the light spots moving around the pool and it creates a very calming atmosphere. Being in the water with the lights and sounds also stimulates them in a way that isn't possible for them out of the pool, and we can also do physio exercises in the pool because the warmth of the water relaxes the muscles. So by having them relaxed and having the lights, which they enjoy anyway, you can do more exercises with them without them really noticing that you're exercising them more - they just seem to relax and function better."

The dual-purpose room and Show Magic pool have been so popular with the pupils that the school already has plans for expansion of the sensory facilities. "This coming summer we're going into a second phase with the building and we're already planning to have a music room put in and a musical floor with different squares which light up. So we shall certainly be considering using SpaceKraft again in the near future because they know the building and we're very happy with the work they've done here."