Councillors agreed behind closed doors at a recent meeting of the Operations Committee to submit a funding application to the Department for Communities’ Access and Inclusion Programme for the development of a sensory garden in Ballyclare, a Changing Places modular unit at Hazelbank sensory garden in Newtownabbey and sensory garden at Antrim Castle Gardens as well as the purchase and installation of additional accessible play equipment at parks in the borough.
In 2020/21, the council secured £120,000 funding from the programme which enabled the development of a £30k sensory garden at Hazelbank Park, which opened in May 2021, as well as accessibility trails at Valley Park and Threemilewater Park in Newtownabbey.
Last year, the sum of £27k assisted the creation of a new sensory garden at Antrim Castle Gardens which was officially opened in September to provide a “therapeutic and calming outdoor sanctuary” for children and adults with autism, dementia and other sensory needs.
A former bowling green was redesigned to provide two metre pathways for easy access, sensory shrubs planted on raised beds and play equipment including wind chimes, stepping logs, balance beams, musical instruments and mirrors to stimulate the senses with benches to enable visitors to enjoy the views of the garden.
Commenting on the opening of the sensory garden at Antrim Castle Gardens at the time, then Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said: “I am aware of the many benefits that sensory gardens can provide particularly for children with learning difficulties and special needs and I welcome this addition to the facilities available at Antrim Castle Gardens.”
A report to councillors indicated this year, the Department is “particularly keen to receive applications for Changing Places facilities, accessible equipment for play parks and projects that will impact positively on sustainability and climate change”.
In Northern Ireland, there are 1.4 fully accessible toilets per 100,000 people. There are 1,567 registered Changing Places toilet facilities in the United Kingdom.
Changing Places public toilet facilities include changing benches, hoists and space for two carers. The equipment costs approximately £15,000.
The Department for Communities has provided £324,000 to the programme with a further contribution of £300,000 from the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.
The programme provides grants of up to £30,000 towards both physical improvements at facilities and work that will enhance the experience on offer to people with disabilities.
Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter.