Plans are under way to transform an outdoor space at St Michael’s Church in Rayleigh into a sensory garden for people with autism and learning disabilities.  

Funded by Sanctuary Homes, the church’s formerly unused area on Sir Walter Raleigh Drive will become a self-contained and accessible haven for the wider community.

The garden is set to provide visitors with a variety of therapeutic and sensory experiences, including scented plants, edible herbs, textured features and relaxing sounds, as well as an inviting environment for wildlife.

The idea for the project came from Sanctuary resident Vicky Polley, a local mother who has an autistic son. She wanted to create somewhere families of children with learning disabilities can meet and get support.

Work is being carried out alongside the delivery of eight new affordable homes at Kimberley Road in Little Wakering and Harris Court in Hockley.

The renovation will take place as part of the developer’s MORE programme, which connects with people in places where it is building new homes, helping to engage future residents.

Colleen Eccles, Sanctuary’s Head of Place Shaping, said: “As part of our MORE programme we are always looking to support projects in the communities where we are building new homes.

“We are pleased to be able to invest in the neighbourhood and share wider benefits with local people.”

Rev Tracy Marlow, vicar at St Michael’s Church, added: “Once the project is complete, we will open a daytime support group for parents and carers of children with special needs.

“As the project develops, we look forward to welcoming families and community groups to the garden. I hope it will make a difference and provide a facility to be enjoyed for many years.”

Rochford District Council’s Portfolio Holder for the Community, Cllr Mike Webb, said: “This is another great initiative resulting from our partnership with Sanctuary Homes which the district will benefit greatly from. 

“Sensory gardens are a fantastic way for visitors to enjoy a wide variety of sensory experiences and it is well documented of just how important they can be to stimulate those who have any kind of learning difficulty.

“I am looking forward to seeing it open and making a real difference to the lives of our residents”.

To find out more about the sensory garden project, email VickyCumberland@icloud.com.

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