“When school leaders consider whether a timber build is right for their SEN school or project, they might be interested to hear about the factors behind timber’s growing popularity in this niche sector and its ability to enhance the pupils’ experience.”
Gareth Barber – MD of The Stable Company.
Timber SEN builds in practice - Keelman’s Way School, Hebburn
Keelman’s Way School is a special school that provides Early Years, Primary and Secondary Education for children with severe, profound and complex learning difficulties.
Built in an urban area, Keelman’s Way required additional space to provide changing facilities for its disability football team, combined with teaching space that would help to meet outdoor learning objectives.
With a considered design incorporating well-chosen materials and a series of special touches, this building was intended to meet a range of complex needs whilst performing both in terms of sensory and practical experience.
Outcome: ‘The Hide’
The Hide, as named by pupils at the school, is a single-storey timber construct, 138m², designed to complement existing amenity space practically and aesthetically.
Positioned in close proximity to playing fields and outdoor learning spaces, the build utilises natural timbers to blend seamlessly with surroundings. Contrasting colours for external decking and doors enable pupils to navigate their way around, with a smooth transition from outside to inside managed by sliding folding doors and gently sloped access paths.
“The Hide is a valuable and exciting new asset for our pupils and soon, the wider community. We are thrilled with the finished product.”
- Paula Selby, Headteacher at Keelman’s Way School
We have identified some of the main reasons for the surge in timber’s popularity in education.
Timber suits the education sector because it offers a flexible, sustainable and cost effective alternative to traditional build materials. When seeking to minimise disruption for pupils, its ability to ‘blend in’ to outdoor spaces without seeming incongruous alongside the existing facilities is a big selling factor.
Timber, in addition, fits environmental standards, which has become a key driver for SEN projects, as funding can be easier to secure for builds where increased effort has been made to reduce environmental impact.
School leaders have found that timber builds provide a simple solution to the demand for increased floor space (within budgets); the easily customisable, accessible and spacious areas allow for use of walking aids, wheelchairs and more. Through accessibility features such as ramps and low-level thresholds for wheelchairs and/or buggies, timber builds incorporate facilities that everyone could use without assistance. Well-placed handrails, low level storage and appropriate door and cupboard handles mean pupils are able to feel as comfortable, independent and confident as possible.
Comfort and adaptation:
A SEN build might need to adapt several times in a single day to fit to pupils’ individual needs; your building should address sensory as well as practical elements. Timber construction allows for bespoke alterations that take into account the impact of elements such as lighting and sound proofing on pupils with particular sensitivities. Glare-free or remote controlled lighting and sound proofing to eliminate exterior or neighbouring room noise are just a few useful features.
Flooring, too, is a way in which timber buildings can evolve to meet sensory challenges and requirements. Changes in flooring type can be used to create ‘zones’, outlining separate areas and learning environments. A recent study from Planet Ark examined the health and wellbeing benefits of wood in an indoor environment. The study said, “The presence of wood has positive physiological effects, lowering blood pressure, heart rate and stress responses when compared with other material types”.
Getting the right result:
If your needs are complex, a contractor with expertise and a willingness to tailor their service is essential. The facilities that come with your SEN build will need to be unique to ensure everyone benefits and you get the right result from your investment.