Glenwood School in Benfleet, Essex, is an example of just how far the design and build process has progressed since dedicated facilities for SEN children came about some 40 years ago. The £15m education complex has been delivered by a project team led by construction and infrastructure company Morgan Sindall.
The school can support 210 young people between the ages of three and 19 years old, transforming the provision that currently exists in this locality to meet the learning needs of children with SEN.
Morgan Sindall worked closely with Curl la Tourelle Head Architecture, Essex County Council and the end-user, Glenwood School, to design an innovative space that enhances the wellbeing of pupils and transforms the way they can learn.
Saul Humphrey, Managing Director of Morgan Sindall East, said: “Delivering a building for mainstream education is not without its challenges, but when delivering an SEN school, construction companies and architects need to be mindful of the unique factors that must be considered when delivering a facility that is purpose-built for individuals with complex needs.
“Many children with SEN struggle to understand their environments, so all elements of the school’s design required careful consideration.
At Glenwood, for example, the use of colour has been carefully thought through to help the young people navigate their way around the school easily.”
The school currently caters for 15 groups from early years to young adults with a complex range of educational needs. It prides itself on the individualisation of education and, due to the ever-evolving nature of SEN learning, the new building and classrooms are flexible and adaptable.
Morgan Sindall approached the development of specialist facilities to meet the needs of all children and young people who attend the school. This includes; an in-floor trampoline room, a hydrotherapy pool, sensory and light rooms and spaces designed to meet the needs of those with sensory processing difficulties.
It also has an immersive room where the school simulates environments, meaning young people can become familiar with places that they might visit, such as an airport and also situations they could imagine such as being under the sea or in a rainforest.
Chris Travers, Operations Director of Morgan Sindall East, said: “The hydrotherapy pool has a comprehensive hoisting system and the trampoline room features a fully-sunken floor with hoisting above so it’s accessible to all. The room is designed for meeting the needs of those with sensory processing difficulties and has a reinforced ceiling to allow for all to use a specialist swing.
“The ability to access all areas easily is paramount when delivering an SEN school and Glenwood is completely accessible to all.”
Morgan Sindall has also supported the school by staying on site after the construction to help teachers and students become accustomed to their new building. This process, known as a soft landing, was adopted to ensure that the transition from construction to occupation was seamless.
Due to the complexity of the facility, Morgan Sindall appointed a dedicated soft landings team who remained on site for four weeks, beyond the build. Morgan Sindall Project Manager, Dan Morrish, led the team, supported by a trainee site manager, labourer and three specialists from its services sub-contractor DPL, which worked closely with the Glenwood team throughout.
As part of the soft landings process, a handover manual was also provided as a quick reference guide for each teacher, helping them to learn about their new classrooms. The manual also included wayfinding and floor plans, so the team can easily access all the areas in their new school. Morgan Sindall hosted two soft landing presentations for staff and detailed equipment training was also delivered to the teachers, with specialist training and film production for equipment such as the new hoist systems and hydrotherapy pool.
Judith Salter, Headteacher at Glenwood School, said: “We are all very excited about the opening of the new building. It is very important to us that the new school feels as warm, welcoming, safe and unique as our previous school. We always strive to help our young people develop and learn so they can be as autonomous as possible. We appreciate that many of our young people find change difficult if they have not been prepared so we are particularly pleased that Morgan Sindall has worked with us to involve many of the young people.
“The new facilities enable us to be even more creative in the ways we can engage our young people in their individual next steps of learning. I am confident that all involved appreciate the importance of being able to give a sense of freedom and choice for the learners whilst still ensuring their safety with a comprehensive approach to security, access and movement within the school building and grounds. The needs of the young people who attend the school vary greatly, some young people are totally dependent on adults to meet all their needs and some can develop a great deal of independence, particularly in contributing to all routines associated with daily living. The new building is designed to meet the needs of all who attend.”
Dan Morrish, Project Manager at Morgan Sindall, said: “Glenwood promotes independence and the spaces throughout the school promote this. Extra measures have been incorporated into the school’s design to ensure young people will be kept safe. “Schools like Glenwood are truly exceptional places providing the very best support and learning opportunities for children and young adults with special educational needs and we’ve been delighted to help to introduce teachers to the new space. The outstanding facilities at the new building provide secure, innovative and exciting learning spaces for the young people and we’re pleased to see the children and staff moving in. We have built many new schools but the Glenwood project has touched and inspired our team in new ways.
“From the very beginning, the school has been very active and engaged. The completed build is the result of a positive partnership between Morgan Sindall, Essex County Council, as the client, and Glenwood School, as the end-user. Many of our meetings took place on the site of the previous school and this has helped us understand the ethos, the young people and their needs and the importance of getting it right. The on-site staff have demonstrated an amazing commitment to being part of this life-changing project.”
Judith Salter concluded: “I am very impressed with the quality of the on-site staff and the way they have managed the site and works. Most of all, I love the fact that the key staff on site were able to understand and embrace Glenwood and have been committed to providing the very best they can because they care. They have followed the Glenwood code, ‘Together we will; respect, achieve and make good choices.’”