East London Independent School in Stratford Marsh, which is part of the TCES Group, has extended its site by redeveloping a church that dates back to 1662. The refurbished church now boasts six new classrooms, as well as a double art room and state-of-the-art classrooms for science, ICT and food technology.
There is also a new school hall, two sensory rooms, and an excellent outside space.
To accommodate it all, the single storey church building has been converted to two storeys, retaining all the existing windows that now cast light both upstairs and downstairs.
The group prides itself on uniquely integrating pupils from 7-19 years with social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs and autism spectrum conditions (ASC).
TCES Group has a pioneering approach to teaching children with autism and the school’s low-arousal, autism-friendly environment suits all pupils at the school, regardless of their individual needs. GA Architects worked with TCES Group to deliver these innovative premises.
The building is calming which is particularly important for young people with ASC. It has excellent acoustics, combined with noise attenuation between classrooms, to ensure pupils can hear what is being said in class. To help create a low arousal environment, the school has paid special attention to lighting. They have carefully included indirect light sources and avoided using fluorescent bulbs. Blinds have been used to minimise direct sunlight. They have also painted the walls with non-stimulating colours. Reds and oranges have been avoided.
TCES Group is a social enterprise that has been supporting young people with SEMH and ASC for almost 20 years. Its £1.5m redevelopment at Stratford Marsh means the school will be able to increase its numbers from 38 to 70.
Thomas Keaney, CEO and Schools’ Proprietor of TCES Group, said:
“This exciting project will enable us to educate more young people locally. We believe that children should not be limited by labels so we’ve created a space where they can learn and thrive together, regardless of their specific diagnosis or labels. A considerable amount of planning has gone into creating a wonderful learning environment and it’s exciting to see our vision coming to life.”
Christopher Beaver from GA Architects said:
“It was always going to be a challenge to convert this 17th century church into a state of the art school. Not only were we faced with the technical issues of delivering a more sustainable and energy efficient building with high acoustic performance etc, but we also had to use our specialist experience as designers of environments for children with autism spectrum conditions (ASC) to deliver a school that met the needs of pupils and teachers.
“It is our belief that a low-arousal building will result in less challenging behaviour with the benefit that teachers find the pupils more receptive. The most important features are adequate personal space, good acoustics, well designed lighting and ventilation and a non-stimulating colour scheme. In terms of finishes, materials had to be robust but without signalling an institutional environment. There will always be a need for regular maintenance in an ASC environment but it is important to choose finishes that can be easily repaired at minimum cost and to design out features that are prone to damage.”