Physio project manages development of specialist sensory room

A physiotherapist has helped to develop a sensory room at a specialist school and college for children and young people with visual or multi-sensory impairments.

Staff: OT Sara Cross, access technology co-ordinator Nikki Cunliffe, physio assistant Nicky Groucutt and physio Sue Stagg

Susan Stagg is team lead for therapy and mobility at the WESC Foundation in Exeter, Devon, where she leads a team that includes speech and language therapists, mobility specialists, occupational therapists, a music therapist and a cerebral visual impairment specialist.

She told Frontline: ‘WESC Foundation provides education and care for young people with visual impairment and complex needs, such as physical and learning disabilities, other sensory impairments, medical needs and life limiting conditions.’

Over a year ago, Mrs Stagg and her colleagues realised that their existing sensory room needed updating.

‘There was no management structure in place to support the room and the equipment was not relevant to our current student group,’ she explained.

‘Especially as our student base had changed significantly over the last 10 years, with much more complex young people attending the school and college.’

As a result, the therapists joined forces with fundraising, estates and education staff to set up a multi-professional group to develop a new room.

‘A member of our senior executive team was overall manager and I became the project manager reporting to him,’ said Mrs Stagg.

The project set out to develop the space into a state of the art sensory room that would be able to engage and educate young people.

‘We wanted to work towards developing intentional communication skills, cause and effect and choice making,’ Mrs Stagg explains.

‘The original room was more like a soft play area with lights rather than an educational room that incorporates sensory integration into a working environment.

‘So the new room had to be interactive and responsive to touch and sound with visual, tactile and auditory feedback that will meet the complex range of needs of our young people.’

The new sensory room at WESC Foundation

Securing funding

The multi-professional group collaborated on the room’s redesign and applied for funding from trusts, grants and suitable charities; before the new room opened last year.

The total cost for the project was £39,500 for room development, flooring and electrical work, with other preparation work and all the project management carried out internally, Mrs Stagg said.

‘And Morrisons kindly gave us £35,000.’

Mrs Stagg said her experience and knowledge as a physiotherapist informed her project manager role and helped shape the design of the finished room.

‘I was able to ensure it was suitable for our young people and incorporated a ceiling track hoist to allow all young people to opportunity to have free movement around the room and interact with the overhead projector, padded area and building blocks all of which we use to encourage active movement, co-ordination skills and body and spatial awareness.’

She added that the majority of young people at WESC Foundation, as well as those who live in the charity’s residential settings or attend its adult day services, now use the sensory room on a daily basis.

New room makes a significant impact

Since the room opened, Mrs Stagg has been ensuring staff receive appropriate training and has been line managing the access and assistive tech co-ordinator who manages the space on a day-to-day basis.

‘The team are thrilled the room has been so well received and is respected and appreciated by people working in it.  

‘Within our student group we have seen some significant changes in some of our young people especially with visual tracking, engaging their vision which can carry over into mobilising and independent skills such as feeding. Cause and effect activities have also increased responsiveness and helped to develop anticipation and communication in some of our young people.’

Transferable skills

The foundation’s physiotherapy team now use the room as a treatment space and carry out joint sessions with either the occupational therapist or speech and language therapists.

‘As a physiotherapist project management was not an area I’d previously been involved with prior to becoming a manager, but the skills we use in our roles are very transferable, including teamwork, problem solving and working to deadlines,’ said Mrs Stagg.

‘I would not hesitate to do it again and have already started liaising over developing our pool into a sensory environment, revamping our sensory garden and creating a tactile room.’

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