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Caring for a child with a life-limiting illness is tough, not only for the young person, but for their families or carers, too. This is why respite homes can be a huge support system and calming place away from home for these people who may need an extra helping hand.
Recently, we had the absolute honour of working on a large project at Martin House Children's Hospice in Boston Spa, Wetherby, where we created a zen sensory playground experience for children of all ages to enjoy. This is the second project that we have completed at the hospice, after being successful in a tender process in 2015. In Autumn of last year we were asked to work on Phase One of the project, which consisted of installing a wheelchair swing and an inclusive roundabout.
After completing Phase One, we were approached once again a few months later by the lovely team at Martin House Children's Hospice who asked us to completely transform their outdoor area to enhance the lives of the young people that they care for at the facility. After visiting them and listening to their exact requirements, we were able to brief the design team so that they could create something truly special for them.
Of course, the design aspect was very important throughout the whole project, as we had to be sensitive to the location due to the area being directly adjacent to a number of bedrooms at the hospice. We also had to ensure that each area was fully accessible for wheelchairs and that they complied with health and safety standards. The programming, scheduling and timing were all imperative to this particular project, and we had to ensure that the installation team worked smartly and thoughtfully from start to finish.
The overall area includes 20 different elements, all appealing to different senses and therefore creating a tangible adventure for every child who comes into contact with it. These zones include the some of the following:
The sail shade sits pretty on the artificial grass area in the centre and umbrellas a storytelling chair, which has "Tell me a story" engraved into it to give it that extra special touch. This area allows parents or carers the ability to take time out in the sunshine to sit and read to a child in a peaceful setting.
The pathway that links up each area is fully accessible by both wheelchair users and able-bodied children, which feature a mixture of timber and wood chippings to create a sensory walkway amongst the concrete surfacing. This is enhanced with a ramp and handrail for accessibility up to the corner seating structure and sand pits.
The corner seating area is multi-functional and a real draw for the children at Martin House Hospice, as not only is there a ramp to access it, but there is also a grip climber and hexagrip steps so that children can pull themselves up onto the platform. Shooting off from the platform is a double-width slide that allows carers to accompany a child whilst using it. Double the fun!
The mirrors, chalkboard and sandpits in the beautiful outdoor area also provide younger children with that tactile encounter that they love. seeing their reflection in the mirror, feeling the sand in between their fingers and toes, and drawing pictures on the chalkboard are all important experiences for children with life shortening conditions.
The best feature by far is the water play area, which features a wooden bridge over blue wet-pour rubber to imitate water. Within this area is a 3 metre wide gazebo to shelter you from the hot sun, or rain; as well as a water spout that can be activated by motion. So, if a child enters the area in which the water spout sits, the water hopper will begin, spurt down the shoot and interact with the water-wheel, which will in turn spin the wheel to allow the water to trickle down towards the limestone boulders to drain away.
We have also installed planters along the edge of the sensory zone so that they can create their own garden, interacting with the soil, planting seeds they would like to see grow and giving them that experience in nurturing a flower from seedling to blossom. Nature is a very important aspect to the project, as there are many trees dotted around the site that have been donated by parents of children who have spent their time at Martin House Children's Hospice over the years. We had to make sure that when we were carrying out the work on site, that we kept the roots protected from any harm or damage, which we will always be mindful of in any case.
The last large area within the sensory playground is the trampoline zone, which includes two 1m squared trampolines sat side by side. This way, children can have fun jumping together in tandem, which encourages conversation and develops their social skills simultaneously.
The majority of the area is covered by artificial grass, which is extremely low maintenance and suitable for an all-weather facility; preventing muddy mess and also mowing. The other surfaces are made up of wet pour rubber and impressions concrete.
We were so honoured to be asked to be a part of this project for Martin House Children's Hospice and we were so pleased that we could make their dreams a reality; helping them to continue delivering the best palliative care by installing the best child and family focused play area that we could. Delivering the highest standards at every point of this project, from conception to design and to installation, we believe we have created an outside area that meets the needs of everyone, whether it be relaxing in the picnic area, listening to a chapter of a book, or bouncing away with friends.
The team at Martin House Children's Hospice were very accommodating to the Playscheme team throughout the entire project and we had a lot of fun completing the work for them. We hope the children enjoy every second of their time using their new outdoor facility, and we couldn't be happier that we were there to create it for them.