New facility will help children with additional needs explore the world around them

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Video: Sensory garden for Donkey Sanctuary

The Donkey Sanctuary has opened a state-of-the-art £43,000 sensory garden to provide therapy for children with additional needs.

L-R Mayor of  Newtownabbey Thomas Hogg, Barbara Hanna of the Parents and Friends Association,  Roddensvale pupil Emma Dickson volunteer Linda and Deputy Mayor of Antrim Borough Council Alderman Drew Ritchie. INNT-13-700-con

L-R Mayor of Newtownabbey Thomas Hogg, Barbara Hanna of the Parents and Friends Association, Roddensvale pupil Emma Dickson volunteer Linda and Deputy Mayor of Antrim Borough Council Alderman Drew Ritchie. INNT-13-700-con

The garden was officially opened by blind dressage rider Doug Stevenson, who hopes to compete in the Rio Olympics 2016.

Centre Coordinator Lorraine Nelson told The Times that the new facilities would greatly benefit children who use the centre.

She explained: “The sensory garden will feature a wheelchair-accessible gazebo, interactive games, talking flowers, toadstools which kids can sit on, sound, signposts that the kids can touch and we can reprogramme for different occasions, a wiggle bar to encourage kids to move, a water feature, rain machine, bongo drums, and miniature ceramic sheep.

“Some of the kids will be visually impaired and it’s important to provide as many sensory experiences as possible. It will further enhance the experience the children have.”

Almost 200 children visit the Donkey Sanctuary every week from schools including Roddensvale, Jordanstown, Rostulla, Hillcroft, Rathcoole teaching support unit and Moyle. Families can also use the centre’s drop-in services.

The sensory garden was funded by donations and grants from local businesses, a “buy a brick” campaign and money raised at fair stalls.

Principal of Jordanstown Special School Anne Magee said that coming to the sanctuary gave her pupils more confidence.

She commented: “The children that are coming here are either visually impaired or deaf and for those children the new sensory garden will add to what is available and extend their interest in the world around them.

“The children start off here riding the donkeys and then they can move on to the bigger horses at Riding for the Disabled. This helps with their confidence and independence. It’s a wonderful facility.”

Mayor of Newtownabbey Alderman Thomas Hogg, who attended the opening ceremony, stated: “The sensory garden is an excellent addition to the facilities here and it’s great to see so many children from our local schools coming here to benefit.

“I would like to pay tribute to the centre’s Parents and Friends Association and volunteers and I’m delighted to see their hard work come to fruition with the opening of the sensory garden.