Wirral Met College has created a purpose-built learning environment where students who are vulnerable, or have special educational needs or disabilities, can learn the skills they need to live and work independently.
The new Independent Living Suite, located at Wirral Met College’s Conway Park Campus, is designed specifically to support young people with a very wide range of disabilities and other additional needs.
The suite replicates a ‘home living’ environment thereby enabling skills for life to be explored in a friendly and supportive educational environment. The open plan suite comes fully fitted with a technology enabled kitchen diner, bedroom and living room and also includes a fully equipped laundry and bathroom areas where students can practice and develop home skills further.
All areas have been designed in close collaboration with the students, the college’s own highly experienced staff, and a range of external, specialist experts, therapists and designers in order to cater for a range of different physical and neurodiverse needs. For example, ovens are fitted with slide and hide doors, worktops, sinks, hobs and tables are height adjustable and wheelchair accessible, and cupboards have been designed for easy access.
Also included within the new complex are changing spaces to support students with complex physical disabilities, craft, DIY and multi-purpose classrooms, sensory and physical activity rooms.
A sensory room features a combination of elements including bubble tubes, infinity hut, light projectors, vibration panel, interactive light and sound functions and soundscape facilities to provide immersive experiences for students. The specific layout and content of this room has been designed by a specialist with design input from the students.
Students also designed a physical activity room, which they have named ‘The Engine Room’. This places the focus on activities that provide sensory regulation by encouraging gross motor movement which stimulates students’ proprioception, tactile, vestibular and visual senses, using equipment such as a rotating climbing wall. A TWALL interactive lights wall, and a unique resistance band station has been designed and built by the college’s own engineering lecturers demonstrating how we can use opportunities to develop accessible learning equipment in our engineering curriculum area.
These bespoke spaces give students the opportunity to build physical activity and sensory integration into their college day, enabling them to overcome barriers relating to neurodiversity or mental health difficulties which might otherwise prevent them attending a general Further Education college.
This innovative Independent Living Suite has been developed as a direct response to the increase in demand of students requiring skills for independent living as part of their Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) as well as a marked increase in the number of people experiencing difficulties with sensory processing or mental health.
Sue Higginson, Principal at Wirral Met College, said: “Wirral Met’s vision is to be ‘an inclusive, outstanding college’ and we are extremely proud of the work we do with our students who have complex and moderate learning difficulties.’
“We have an increasing number of students who need to improve their independent living skills and resilience and this is often a key component of their Education, Health and Care Plans (ECHPs). Local demographic data shows that this demand is set to continue to rise significantly for at least the next five years.
“The new Independent Living Suite has been designed to really make a difference to the life skills of our most vulnerable students and we believe it is a sector-leading facility within a Further Education college.”
“This facility will support learner’s independence, preparation for adulthood and supports the development of domestic skills, in addition to developing the skills some students require to manage their own neurodiverse needs.”
Cllr Jeff Green, Mayor of Wirral, said: “I’m honoured and pleased to be part of the official opening of this incredible facility, which will help generations of young people gain independence. As a borough, we can take great pride in our partner, Wirral Met College, as they continually strive to give our young community the best opportunities.”
Paul Arista, Post 16 SEN Manager at Cheshire West and Chester Council, said: “The development of the Independent Living Skills Centre is tremendous and very forward thinking. It will offer local young people the opportunity to gain skills which will undoubtedly have a positive impact on their life. I look forward to working with the College and seeing how this centre develops."