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‘They get to be themselves’ – Nairn Academy pupils find ‘oasis’ in weekly Haven Centre visits

By Federica Stefani

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Teacher Andrew Murphy and Jack Makinson. Picture: Callum Mackay.
Teacher Andrew Murphy and Jack Makinson. Picture: Callum Mackay.

Nairn Academy pupils are reaping “huge benefits” from weekly sessions at a pioneering centre for young people with complex needs in Inverness.

The Haven Centre, Scotland’s first Scotland’s first multi-purpose centre for young people with severe learning disabilities opened in September last year after almost a decade of hard work driven by the Elsie Normington Foundation.

Not long after its opening, a group of pupils from Nairn Academy’s additional support needs (ASN) started attending weekly play sessions, which are run by Inverness charity Special Needs Action Project (SNAP) at the centre.

“It’s just wonderful,” said ASN teacher Andrew Murphy about the experience that his five pupils (aged between 12 an d 16) have at the Haven’s Centre.

“I can’t quite describe how much they get out of it. The children have a great time here. It provides them with something we wouldn’t be able to offer in our school. It’s so peaceful, like an oasis.

He said one of the main benefits of the Haven centre is that it caters for a wide variety of needs beyond the scope of most ASN departments which are struggling with financial cuts.

Teacher Andrew Murphy and Jack Makinson. Picture: Callum Mackay.
Teacher Andrew Murphy and Jack Makinson. Picture: Callum Mackay.

“Under one roof, children can choose to access different rooms and outside areas which appeal to their sensory needs,” he explained.

These areas are specifically geared towards children in wheelchairs and for children with complex needs: the Haven centre has special facilities such as a ball pit with a special hoist, a sensory room with mirrors, lights and bubbles, a huge space to roam and explore, an art room, toy area and a garden with a wheelchair trampoline, nest swing, tunnel, roundabout.

“It really helps to reduce anxiety, and the sensory stimulation is another important aspec some children will respond better to differend types of activity. One girl in my class, she loves lights, there sa sens room where she can see baubles, and lights that shine on the wall.

Glen Jones drawing. Picture: Callum Mackay.
Glen Jones drawing. Picture: Callum Mackay.

“It’s tapping into idfferent types of stimulation they engage with in a way that is not possible in a normal classrooms.
They can relax and be themselves more, and you can see different sides of them because of this.

“They also get a lot of fun out of it. A lot of the children would not engage with what happens in an academic environment, but you find other ways to stimulate their brain.”

Picture: Callum Mackay.
Picture: Callum Mackay.

External donations were key to the ability of the ASN class to access this service, he said.

”None of this would have been possible without the kind generosity of the Orion group based in Inverness and Nairn Academy parent council.”

However, the benefits of these sessions have a wider reach, following the pupils at home and positively impacting their families too.

Tania Wallace, whose daughter Amy (15) has been attending the sessions since last year, and who also uses the restbite servive provided by SNAP at the Haven centre, said the opening was a godsend for her and her daughter.

Amy Wallace. Picture: Callum Mackay.
Amy Wallace. Picture: Callum Mackay.

She said: “The Haven Centre is the only place that’s really left for children like may with sensory disorders and disabilities. My child now has somewhere to go, because everywhere else has shut. There was no funding for anywhere else, and then the Haven centre came along and and this was like a godsend for my daughter.

“It’s an amazing place. It’s so quiet and peaceful, with no crowds, and that is a massive issue for Amy. She can be herself without worrying about crowds or noises because, her sensory levels are so high.

“When she comes home, she is a lot more relaxed. And because we get sent pictures of the sessions, I get to see what she is experiencing as well. Is great to see her so relaxed with big smiles on her face.

“I can’t even express it in words…it’s so special for us to be able to have access to it, be able to just be herself, in public.

“The play sessions were a huge help, it prepared her for when she started going in restbite care. She loves it there.”

“I leave her at 4pm and come and pick her up at 10am the following day…and as soon as I get home, I sleep! Amy needs 1to1, care 24/7. She has sleep issues and I can be up from anytime from one to six times during the night. really depends on what has gone on during the day.

“Being able to get a full night sleep, means that I can function, and be there for Amy.”

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