After seven years fundraising, Cookstown Primary today unveiled a new £45k soft play area specifically designed for children with autism.
Imagined by the school’s then P4s after the need for such a play area was identified, the school’s principal said the Parents and Friends Association took up the mantle, and raised over £30k for the project.
But he said they couldn’t have done it without the help of the community, businesses in the area and that final promise to pay for ground work from the Education Authority.
Now he said the children are so keen to use the area, a schedule had to be drawn up.
“We started the idea of a soft play area probably about six or seven years ago and we asked a year four class would they come up with their ideas,” Mr Downing explained.
“The need was identified because we’ve got a very large autism specific centre and a learning support centre. The year four class drew all their pictures out, as wee ones do, and then we handed those to the designers, who went to the architects and the result is what we see there today.”
Asked how the new play area has gone down, he said: “The kids think it’s brilliant, They’re not quite fighting over it, but we’ve had to put a rota in place that every class and every year group has the chance to book the play ground.
“It’s turned out to be something that is good, but we just didn’t realise how good until we got it on site.”
As for how the playground will help with lessons, Mr Downing added: “We’re already seeing the way in which it helps them to settle in class.
“It improves their concentration and it improves their motivation as well because you can use it as a reward.”
Mrs Cuddy and Mrs Greaves agree. Teachers in the learning support and autism classes, they said the playground will make a difference.
“They need very frequent movement breaks and they need a lot of exercise,” said Mrs Greaves. “There is a roundabout and other children would spin round in that and then they would have enough, our kids will spin and spin and spin - for 10 or 15 minutes because that’s what they need.
“It just makes them ready to work,” added Mrs Cuddy.
“We have different breaks in the day where we might take them outside to use that facility to help them to work.”
“It’s absolutely brilliant - so good,” added a parent. “They put so much hard work into it and they deserve it.”