Just opposite Ashton Park in west Preston is the largest multi-sensory environment in the UK for children and adults with special needs. An invaluable facility offering use of genuinely unique provision which is crucial to cognitive functioning, the Creative Space Centre really is a truly remarkable place.
Operated by Creative Support Ltd., who took over the Creative Space Centre in 2013, the centre itself features a large, soft-padded multi-sensory area spread across two levels and connected by stairs and a slide, which boasts specialist lighting and equipment.
Providing sensory stimulation as well as encouraging relaxation in a calm and controlled atmosphere, the centre also gives wheelchair users the chance to get out of their chairs and experience different positions.
It is also interactive, allowing users to pick what appears on the centre’s screens, the music playing over the sound system, and the images projected onto walls, allowing for a genuinely bespoke experience.
Creative Support, founded in 1990 and one of the largest not-for-profit providers of care services in the country (the company supports some 7,000 people), have cultivated a very special sanctuary indeed.
“We provide a therapeutic setting for those with sensory needs,” said Communications Officer, Sally Wheatman. “People come from all over the country; we have one group who come regularly from Lockerbie. It’s an inspirational facility.
“We work with all sorts of people with dementia, autism, learning disabilities, and the rooms are completely interactive,” added Sally. “Particularly with dementia patients, you can put old photographs or family films up, so it’s really good for the memory and cognitive functioning.”
Offering outdoor provision as well as indoors, the Centre Manager Jane Robinson recently raised £4,000 to fund an accessible tree den in the centre’s sensory woodland walk, which also features wind chimes, tunnels, a petal drum, an audible tortoise feature, and a rain wheel.
Jane’s eldest daughter, 15-year-old Emily, herself has a life-limiting condition and is a wheelchair user. And so the sensory woodland walk - officially opened earlier this month by sponsor, businessman, and fundraiser Pete Marquis through the Friends of Space charity - has been a personal pursuit for the centre’s manager.
“Emily uses the Space Centre all the time and obviously it’s a huge part of our life,” explained Jane. “We just wanted something there that she could access and get the most out of now and other people with similar conditions could appreciate and enjoy.
“It’s a raised platform; it certainly gives you the feeling of being elevated,” she said of the newly-installed tree den. “You can look down on people - you’re in the trees, you’re in the leaves - so it gives you a whole new perspective.
“You can get up close to the tree trunks and you can experience the weather; as it goes through the seasons, you’ll get a lot of different experiences,” she added.
The founder of the Creative Space Centre, Alison Birch, says she is thrilled with the woodland walk.
“It’s been five years in the making and it’s even better than I’d hoped,” said Alison. “The woods were there and it just seemed such a waste not to be able to access them: space is about sensory stimulation and the power of sound and light to affect your unconscious mind.
“Once you are in, we use the natural foliage to create dens and there’s hidden pathways to go around,” added Alison. “We’ve tried to cater for those who are really active - there’s a tunnel they can scramble through - and those who are in wheelchairs, who can be pushed under a foliage tunnel making it suitable for all.
“In the sensory rooms, sound and light form the basis of what happens and equally outside it’s the same – sound and light in the woods will affect the unconscious mind and because nature and well-being is such a big thing now.
“Why shouldn’t it be for our service users?”