Our Space Award project creates Lady Allen Secret Nature Garden for Wellbeing and Reconnection for SEND young people in West London.

Lady Allen Garden for SEND young people

The playgrounds and gardens around London provide space for children to play and enjoy – but one charity wanted to make sure that every child and young person in their local community could benefit. KIDS charity has been running for 51 years, acting with disabled children, young people and their families to change the system and secure the resources to which they are entitled. They also create opportunities for them to take part in play, learning, leisure, skills training and social activities.

John and Holly, who work for the charity, saw an opportunity when they received a grant updates newsletter from Groundwork London about the Our Space Award (OSA). OSA aims to help Londoners clean and green the city through active community engagement and participation. With grants available of up to £20,000, OSA funds projects that aim to increase a sense of community ownership over shared spaces,  and support Londoners of all ages and backgrounds. John and Holly applied for a grant to provide local disabled children and young people with a space to call their own. Particularly following the Covid-19 pandemic, Wandsworth’s young and disabled children were often isolated, lacking opportunities to explore and play, and had little-to-no social support network.

Thereʼs nothing out there to help my son. I want him to make good friends and have good influences. Heʼs very vulnerable, other young people tell him to do bad things and he does them because he wants them to like them. Iʼm worried he’ll end up in serious trouble.Parent, Wandsworth

Young people with Special Educational Needs & Disabilities (SEND) are vastly over-represented in the criminal justice system, being 10 times more likely to find themselves in custody than their non-disabled peers. These vulnerable young people also make up the 45% of children who are permanently excluded from school in England alone; 60% of them often become young offenders. Early intervention, opportunity and the right space to play and connect with others can provide them with positive, community-based activities.

Our Space Award Groundwork London Lady Allen Garden Before Image 1
Our Space Award Groundwork London Lady Allen Garden Before Image 2
Our Space Award Groundwork London Lady Allen Garden Before Image 3

Transformation of the Secret Garden

For 3 years, KIDS has grown the Wellbeing Group; an initiative at Lady Allen for disabled young people aged 14-21, they came together with the aim of reducing their isolation and risk of taking the wrong path by engaging in sports, arts and community activities, as well as skill-building workshops. Young people are at the heart of the Wellbeing Group and are fully involved in developing, running and evaluating it. It was these ‘X’ individuals who planted the idea to regenerate the 140 space. Their project idea was to create a sensory garden space where all the children can relax in nature and explore different sensory experiences. They wanted a secret garden theme with hidden features including mirrors and musical chimes, and rewilding areas with bird feeders to welcome wildlife. Their vision included an area where they could grow vegetables to use in their healthy eating sessions, and a welcoming seating area to unwind and connect with nature

For this group of young people, their new sense of purpose helped to improve their mental health. The garden will provide benefits for themselves and all of the approx. 106 disabled children who use the playground. It will also provide a legacy that future users of the playground can build on in their exploration and conservation of the space. To ensure the sustainability and future community benefit of the garden, the Wellbeing Group also partnered with a local gardener for advice and support.

Our Space Award Groundwork London Lady Allen Garden Secret Garden After Fairytale Tree
Secret Garden After Bench
Green Space Tree Trunk Stepping Stones
Secret Garden After 1 Accessible Area
Lady Allen Garden Secret Garden After Sensory Garden Water Feature 2

Lady Allen were granted funding from OSA for the transformation of an unused garden space into the beautiful secret garden with areas for nature and wildlife that the Wellbeing group envisaged, with vegetable growing, a seating area and a sensory space perfectly designed for the young people with SEND and children with autism. 

Exploration through learning and maintenance

The paved area was cleaned to discover an old formation of stones to display in the seated area. Vegetables and flower beds were landscaped to section off the space from the rest of the playground to provide both a space to have fun and unwind. A composting area was created for the sensory area and surrounding vegetables. 

A raised bed was refurbished and repainted to revive the tired garden. A nest-box was attached and benches created to create a seating area. Safe and appealing plants were chosen for the children, and also to encourage wildlife all year round. 

Log  stepping stones were installed leading to a raised net, which allows children to lay down or sit above and surrounded by nature, allowing them to explore a wide range of plant scents, colours and textures, creating a sensory space of relaxation and discovery under the old oak tree.

The developed space is designed to provide long-term benefits to disabled young people. Not only has this project created a space for all local SEND children to enjoy, but the ongoing conservation of the garden provides them with the opportunity to continue engaging with their local community, get involved in outdoor activities with a sense of ownership, and socialise with others to help them grow socially and responsibly.

The young people and members of the Wellbeing Group were involved in the project from the start; from the design, to buying plants and materials, to building the garden. This allowed them to develop team-working, problem-solving, budget management and leadership skills. 

Despite challenges due to issues removing the paving old concrete and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, which halted the progress of the transformation for 2.5 months, the space eventually flourished, boasting natural seating made out of tiki, the planting of a new tree and a water fountain taking centre stage in the seating area. The space holds a sense of calm, proving to be a safe space for the children to have fun exploring nature.

Our Space Award Groundwork London Lady Allen Garden Secret Garden After The Team Wellbeing Group Volunteers

Wellbeing and Reconnection

Several members have already expressed an interest in gaining ASDAN accredited volunteer training. Their vision is that the garden will be used and maintained by the current and future Wellbeing Group, for the benefit of all the disabled children and their families who use the playground. The garden also provides a new opportunity to learn as it can be used as a ‘living classroom’,where KIDS volunteers and the Wellbeing Group can learn about climate change and healthy eating. 

Volunteer Krishna of KIDS charity said “We enjoy seeing the children get involved and gain so much joy out of the space, especially beneath the enchanted tree which sits above the sensory garden.”

The Lady Allen Secret Nature Garden for Wellbeing and Reconnection not only transformed into a beautiful secret garden,  but it has also become a space of ecological learning and biodiversity. This is particularly valuable to the children and young people supported by the KIDS charity. Where the majority of local communities live in built-up council estates, and few have access to gardens to experience the benefits of nature. This secret garden will continue to be both a haven and a space of exploration, and it is sure to inspire engagement and connection for years to come…

If you’d like to apply for a grant to create your own green space project like Our Space Award Lady Allen Secret Nature Garden, the next application window for Our Space Award is due to open in November 2023. (date TBC). Find out more here, or sign up to receive our Groundwork London grant updates newsletter.