Sensory Mapping with Students of Doubletrees School

Lynsey Robinson, Sensory Trust

As part of the Connect project, supported by Lloyds TSB Foundation, Sensory Trust organised a design consultation day working with young people at Doubletrees School, Cornwall. Doubletrees School is a special school for young people with learning disabilities up to the age of nineteen. The school has been looking at how to improve its outside space, and they wanted the students to be able to participate in the design process to ensure everybody’s needs were taken into account. The school has several areas in need of development and they want to make the best use of each area, to allow the greatest amount of flexibility to maximise use.

The consultation included a mix of participants. We have found that running these sessions is a good opportunity to invite people working in a similar field to learn first hand from people with learning disabilities and find out how they can offer a more inclusive approach at their own sites. We were joined by a group of teenagers working with Devon and Cornwall Constabulary Youth Intervention officers. The teenagers were deemed to be at risk of exclusion from school and this was a chance for them to take part in a day where they could work alongside young people with life experiences quite different from their own and to challenge preconceived ideas about disabled people. We were also joined by staff from the Eden Project involved in education, landscaping and operations who were keen to take ideas back to Eden for application in new design work.

Making up a design page

The day itself was divided into different activities. In the morning we went out in mixed groups around the school to assess the opportunities currently available and think of the type of thing the students would like to see in the grounds. They used a technique called sensory mapping (developed by the Sensory Trust) where they were asked to record locations of sensory stimuli and consider how they might make more of them or create new sensory opportunities.

We then headed back inside to do some place mapping. This is designed as a group activity and involves putting stickers, magazine cuttings and so on onto maps of the site to show what future possibilities people would like to see.

 A finished design page

In the afternoon we created a design scrapbook for Doubletrees to keep as a resource that could be used with the designers who would develop the outside space at the school and to act as a record of the children’s ideas. Each individual taking part (including staff) was asked to create a page for the scrapbook. They could use whatever they liked, Widgit stickers, magazine scraps, drawing, writing and so on. This proved to be a particularly effective way of getting different people to work together and it gave everyone an attractive, tangible result from the day The pages produced showed an astonishing range of ideas. At the end of the day we put them one by one into a book, taking time to show each page to the group, they were then bound with ribbon to produce a record that everyone felt proud of.

The day was a real success and everyone felt very positive, something that really stood out was the way the different groups interacted. The teenagers who had been brought by Devon and Cornwall Constabulary who were typically disruptive in their own school environment became incredibly supportive and considerate when helping the Doubletrees students. At the end of the day a teacher from Doubletrees offered two of the boys work experience at the school, this was very rewarding for their intervention officer but more importantly for the boys to see that they have something of value to offer. It made a real change for them to be invited into a classroom to help rather than being asked to leave.