When we shut the office door at the start of the first lockdown in March last year, no one envisaged that a year on, the Kangaroos office team would still be mostly working from home. The office remains eerily quiet for much of the time.
Knowing how difficult it has been for our members and their families during the pandemic, and musing the redundant office, Kangaroos, CEO, Peter Ackland, started thinking about how we might use the unoccupied space. He shared with the team:
“What if we could turn our meeting room into a safe space our members could come to for a play session? It would give families a break from their routine at home, get them out of the house and give everyone a change of scene, and give our members some fresh stimulus with different toys than they have at home.”
Needless to say, we all thought it was a brilliant idea! And so our sensory room idea was born. And thanks to a lot of hard work from our Activities Manager, Lorna Herrett, and sessional staff member, Emily Day, the room was organised and ready in a matter of hours.
Kangaroos meeting room gets an overhaul
It was decided the unused meeting room would be the perfect place for a playroom for our members. It would provide families with a safe space to take their young person for a trip away from their home with all of the sensory toys and equipment in place to cater for special needs.
Out came the meeting table and chairs. And after a thorough clean, in went the sensory toys and equipment. Toys include a bubble tube, fibre optics, light box, UV light and a range of sensory and tactile toys.
How our sensory room works
A timetable of available spaces is sent to all members who express interest in the new sensory room service. Members can book slots to attend for 1 hour play sessions, where they have sole use of the room. A qualified member of staff is on hand to help, but children are encouraged to enjoy exploring the space and playing with the sensory equipment on their own or with a sibling.
Parents and carers must stay at the office during the session, but are able to sit and chat (socially distanced) with our team member and enjoy a cup of tea or coffee while their child explores the sensory room.
There is a half hour gap between sessions to allow staff to thoroughly clean the room and wipe down toys, equipment, door handles etc. with anti-bacterial spray and wipes to ensure the safety of our members.
There is plenty of free parking at More House Farm Park, where the office and playroom are situated.
Kangaroos innovates to meet a need
The last year has been tough for everyone. But for young people with learning difficulties, and their families, the pandemic has been incredibly challenging. Without access to usual support through school and clubs like Kangaroos, young people with special needs have had their normal routines disrupted and many families have been left to cope on their own during the lockdowns.
While a few families have thrived without the pressure of normal daily routines, many more have found the situation exhausting and extremely challenging. Many of our young people with learning difficulties have found it hard to understand why they can’t meet friends and family or go to club sessions at Kangaroos.
The sensory room at Kangaroos has given our families a much-needed indoor place to go where they feel safe and don’t have to mix with other people – which is a huge worry for families with vulnerable young people who are shielding. The sensory room gives families peace of mind that their young person can have something different incorporated into their routine with minimal risk.
Access to specialist toys
Sensory toys are particularly important to young people with learning difficulties and complex needs, but many of them are expensive to buy. Our sensory room gives our members access to a range of toys they may not be able to afford or have storage room for at home.
Sensory toys encourage learning, communication and are incredibly calming for children and adults with autism and special needs.
We are also setting up a new lending library to include sensory equipment, a range of specialist toys and books as part of our new family support project.
Our clubs are running again
We aren’t through the woods yet with Covid, so we will continue to look at ways we can innovate and support our members over the coming months. Our face-to-face clubs are now up and running again at the Ashenground Centre in Haywards Heath. Sessions are carefully planned and numbers of attendees are limited to keep everyone as safe as possible.
We are following government guidelines and will continue to review the situation and resume our full service when it is safe to do so. In the meantime, our virtual activity programme, which has been a huge success and a lifeline to many of our families, will continue to run. Find out more about the clubs we run here.
Bringing colour to the lives of young people with learning disabilities is our aim, and our sensory room is just one of the ways we are trying to continue to support our members through challenging times.