Sensory garden for children in full bloom

Men used to flicking levers in dockyard cranes and shifting cargoes on ships went back to manual labour and wheelbarrow pushing, bringing a neglected garden back to life for children to savour.

A month of physical exertion, much of it volunteered by local businesses, has transformed an outdoor courtyard into a sensory garden for children at the School of The Divine Child, in Cork’s Ballintemple. Sharing a campus with Enable Ireland, it caters for the educational needs of children aged four to 18, with physical and multiple disabilities.

“The school was designed in the 1960s, and a central feature was this courtyard with a very old sycamore in the middle, which dated back to the original Lavanagh House,” notes principal Patrick Harrington.

“Lots of windows looked out on it but, in recent years, it just fell out of use and became dangerous. There was a rockery around the tree, and lots of thorns and briars with grass, that couldn’t be used most of the year. It was a wasted opportunity.”

Enter the volunteer team of Dave Roynane and Gillian Brohan of Mainport Group/ Ronayne Shipping, a neighbouring business who agreed to help but stressed “we should do more than just write a cheque”.

Mr Roynane, Ms Brohanhe and a half dozen Ronayne Shipping employees, rolled up their sleeves, barrowing and manhandling materials in and out along the school corridors to access the enclosed courtyard and effect its sylvan transformation.

They joined with landscaping expert John Butler, who designed a sensory garden that pivots around the 100-year old sycamore. He put in four raised beds that can be navigated and lapped in wheelchairs, can be seen from all quarters, and scented, watered, and tugged at with tough grasses embedded for prying fingers.

There’s also a maze/play area for games, like ground noughts and crosses and bean bag throws.

Joining the volunteering neighbours were Wiser Recycling, Advanced Skip Hire, Pat McDonnell Paints, and John A Wood, with youthful input also from the Ursulines and Douglas Community School students.

Along the way, a number of the 20 pupils at the School of the Divine child also got dug into the project and planting, so now there’s a host of golden daffodils and other bulbs gone to ground for the winter months, ready for a spring invasion.

“The students are out there already now, picking up leaves, they’ve made the space their own,” says Ms Harrington, adding that it’s due an official launch on Dec 14 with a carol service.

The landscaping was completed in black and white Bradstone with safe cappings and a year or two’s growth will see it softened and changed into a blaze of life and whirring wheelchairs doing laps of honour on all-weather brick-paved paths, while a new Canadian cedar seat will have a desk added for fine weather lessons and learning under the shade of the trimmed back old sycamore — “it is a school, after all”, quips Ms Harrington.


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