In response to an urgent need to create more school places for primary age children with a focus on social, emotional and mental health needs, Northumberland County Council and its dedicated project team transformed the dilapidated Ashington High School Annex building into an exceptional learning space, to give a real opportunity for children to develop their life-skills and long-term independence.
The £1.92m total investment has seen the internal refurbishment of the existing building, working with the fixed layout to create five specialist learning spaces that are suited to provide a holistic approach to teaching children with SEND. Throughout the project, the mental health needs of the children were at the forefront, with the key ethos being: if, as a result of positive ‘therapeutic’ interventions, sufficient progress is made related to engagement and self-management, the children may begin to access more formal education provision.
As such, the refurbishment of the school needed to be designed in such a way to enable a supportive curriculum offering information, activities and experience in a variety of ways to allow the children to engage and learn. To ensure the requirements of learners were met, extensive consultation with the school's community was carried out for the duration of the project. This involved working with school teaching and support staff, the school's governing bodies and representatives of the parent body.
By doing so, the conventional design of classrooms and public areas of primary schools was clearly inappropriate to the needs of the children being placed at Ashdale SEN, and instead, spaces have been refurbished to allow for creative, adaptable and flexible use (utilising the BB104 area guidelines for SEND and alternative provision).
Beyond the design and layout, the former Ashington High School Annex building was derelict and run-down; it was broken into and misused on a regular basis. During the transformational refurbishment works, the project team worked collaboratively and meticulously, painstakingly saving and restoring original features that were lucky enough to stay undamaged during its period of vacancy. For example, beautiful parquetry was discovered under decaying carpets, and original timber wall panelling and brick cloisters were unearthed under the graffiti; all of which was repaired and reconditioned where possible, to ensure the building kept its history.
This refurbishment project has gone beyond the simple requirement to provide further pupil places and a fit-for-purpose facility, developing and reviving a dilapidated asset for NCC; it has given all children who attend Ashdale SEN School a real opportunity to develop their life-skills and long-term independence.