SEN-friendly sessions resume at Bishop's Stortford's splash park
Play sessions for children and young adults with special educational needs (SEN) return to the Bishop’s Stortford splash pool in Castle Park today (Wednesday, May 22).
Throughout the summer, from 5pm to 7pm each Wednesday, the SEN youngsters, their parents and siblings have exclusive use of the town’s open-air paddling pool.
The purpose is to create a safe haven. During non-SEN sessions, the area can become overcrowded, which may unsettle some of the SEN children, particularly those with autism. With fewer youngsters and some familiar faces, they feel more comfortable, making it easier for them to relax and have fun.
This will be the fourth summer of SEN-friendly sessions in the splash park, which were launched by Dan and Zoe Walker, whose son has autism.
The weekly event, which is backed by Bishop’s Stortford Town Council, is now run by a team of volunteer marshals. Last summer, Karen Goddard and Kellie O’Dwyer, both mums of SEN children, marshalled every week, but this year 11 new volunteers – six of whom are parents of SEN youngsters – have been added.
Karen said: “It’s nice to get more of the community involved – it helps spread the word.”
Having a larger team takes some of the pressure off Karen, Kellie and their youngsters. “Our children don’t always want to come here every week, but they have to because we’re marshalling. It’s to give them a break too,” said Karen.
“All parents understand why SEN children act the way they do. I think we’ve all been through that point where you can’t do basic things like take your kids to the park.
“Nobody wants confrontation. Nobody wants to take their children to the park and constantly explain or apologise for their behaviour.”
The marshals are responsible for arriving at the park before the SEN session starts. If anyone is using the pool, they remind them that the session is starting at 5pm. Permanent signage at the entrance to the park advertises the event.
Once the session has started, the marshals – who wear high-visibility vests stamped with the town crest – make the area as safe as it can be. Bungee ties secure the gates to stop the youngest children from getting out.
The initiative has attracted attention from outside Bishop’s Stortford. Last summer, visitors from Welwyn Garden City, Cheshunt and Braintree flocked to the town to make use of the SEN-friendly sessions.
Karen and Kellie hope to attract even more volunteers to help run the weekly splash sessions throughout the summer. If you are interested, visit the Facebook page SEN-sessions-Stortford-Splash-Park.