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Our Sheffield studio’s Landscape Architecture team recently provided a complimentary design of outdoor teaching shelters for a local SEN school, and the teachers were delighted with the output with a view to commissioning the work in the future.

A recent piece of pro bono work we did for a Special Educational Needs (SEN) school local to our Sheffield studio is an example of how small, thoughtful interventions can have a lasting legacy for users. 

As landscape architects and designers, we are the catalyst for an idea – and we have the skills that can bring an idea to life, in the endeavour to make a positive impact on communities and the world 

Greenacre School in Barnsley provides SEN facilities for children and young people aged 3-19 with severe and complex needs. This inspiring facility provides comfort and extraordinary support, developing strong interpersonal relationships with staff and other pupils.  

The staff at Greenacre gave the HLM team the opportunity to design two new shelters within existing courtyards at the school, aiming to improve the spaces and offer more regular and flexible use within a covered, comfortable external space used for outdoor learning.  

We presented a vision for an outdoor classroom and play space that was flexible, accessible, snug, tactile and fun for children of all abilities. The design focussed on bringing a connection to nature within the external learning environment, linking to the existing surrounding nature and complimented with new sensory planting. A simple, elegant timber structure with a polycarbonate canopy provides a sensory experience with light and colour, combined with a linear bench, storage and soft furnishings.  

Comfort, particularly for children of limited physical ability, was paramount – offering them respite from the confines of a wheelchair and to enjoyment of the outdoors. A sense of enclosure was also important, enhancing the feeling of security through protection from the elements. Combined with a sense of play and tactile interest, children can learn through discovering the space for themselves; including sensory play, musical features, and visual interventions.  

We were overwhelmed by the staff’s response to our design, a result of a collaborative process which we provided at no cost [to them]. We can’t wait for the project to be realised and provide a fantastic outdoor learning experience for the children and the staff at Greenacre School. 

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“Our collaboration with the design team has allowed a concept of inclusion to come to life. As a school, we posed a number of challenges which required flexibility with permanence, an outside experience with protection from the elements, and accessibility alongside inspiration and magic. We knew what we wanted to achieve, but had no idea whether it was even a possibility.  It has been a privilege to work with a team who not only had the vision to create a magical space for all of our pupils to access, but relished the challenges that we posed, and turned them into something where imagination can flourish. What more could we have asked for? We now have a space where children can connect with the environment and each other.”

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