Culture Voucher case study: The Grange Academy and Stockwood Discovery Centre

During June, 47 pupils from The Grange Academy visited Stockwood Discovery Centre in Luton. As one of the Bedford schools involved in our Twinning Project, they have been working closely with Culture Challenge Provider, Anne Marie Stijelja to organise a range of activities centred around their new sensory garden which Anne Marie will be developing with the children.

This activity was funded by Culture Vouchers awarded to our schools participating in the Twinning Project, an innovative and collaborative leadership initiative that bridges the two sectors of arts and education, for the collective good of Bedford’s children and young people. Based on the concept of ‘twin towns’, the Twinning project addresses the current challenges around educational participation and engagement in culture by matching local cultural providers with schools. These ‘twins’ have worked together to develop and deliver cultural opportunities for young people within an appointed host school.

Teacher at The Grange Academy, Anna Friggens, was keen for the activity to have an impact on her pupils, all of whom have mild learning difficulties. Anna hoped that this visit to Stockwood Discovery Centre would allow the pupils to explore their choices in a multi-sensory way. She explains, ‘visiting the gardens will generate more interest for our bigger school project of creating our own sensory garden and give them ideas about how it can be used. Grange Academy is a primary and secondary school, so Primary pupils will be here for a long time – they will feel more of a sense of belonging at our school in helping to create a special piece of the school that they will be able to appreciate for years to come.’

Stockwood Discovery Centre

Anna was delighted in the outcomes of the visit, as exploring the sensory garden at Stockwood Discovery Centre was successful in awakening their senses for experiencing plants and gardens. The excitement the sensory garden project at the school is generating extends out beyond the classroom, with many parents now taking an interest in how this exciting new outdoor space will develop.

Anna has been pleased to hear that ‘parents are more aware of the school sensory garden project because of this research trip too, some have commented about gardens and plants they have at home or visited over the break in preparation for this. Each class focused on a specific sense to make recordings about but certainly experienced all senses on the day. If the weather had been a bit less rainy they would have gained even more from it!’

Taking the pupils to Stockwood enabled them to explore the outdoor spaces using their many senses. ‘There was something there to suit everyone. We have many photos of this event and the children touching, smelling, listening, looking… staff all gave positive feedback, and children had many comments for our school newsletter regarding the trip.’ This all round sensory experience has been particularly important to those pupils who have learning difficulties, allowing them to experience and appreciate a new place in ways that feel most comfortable and appropriate to them.

Stockwood Discovery Centre

With 20 of the children on the trip defined as having ASD (autistic spectrum disorder), Anna remarked that it was fantastic to see them stepping out of their comfort zone, touching and smelling things they normally wouldn’t. She explains, ‘they were surprised by some of the textures and smells specifically. The interactive sound garden was great too. With many exclamations of ‘it smells like perfume/soap!’ the group enjoyed discussing medicinal purposes of some plants. Some children recognised the lambs ear plant being as soft as a blanket!’

Teacher Anna was impressed that the activities during the day had significantly expanded the children’s vocabulary in describing the plants, using many new and adjectives. She noted it was wonderful to see so many smiles and one special moment was when a squirrel became quite attached to one of the ASD boys and ate right out of his hand.

It has been fascinating to see how The Grange Academy and Anne Marie Stijelja have worked together to establish the new sensory garden at the school, and also extend the project out into the local area by their visit to Stockwood Discovery Centre. It will be wonderful to see how this visit will shape their own garden, and ultimately provide the pupils at the school with a space they have created themselves, to bring a place of calm and sensory stimulation to the school.