Sunderland charity's fundraiser to create sensory Christmas grotto for children with special educational needs and disabilities

A charity is looking to raise enough money to create a specialist sensory Christmas grotto for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

Thursday, 11th November 2021, 11:22 am

The grotto will consist of a specialist sensory tepee where children can take part in festive craft activities to help them get used to their surroundings and a sensory grotto where they will be able to visit Santa in a “calm and relaxed environment”.

The initiative is led by local charity The Sensory Place which was established and run by parents who have children with SEND.

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Parent and charity trustee, Helen Helen Abernethy, said: “A traditional Christmas grotto is bright, crowded and noisy and this can be really overwhelming for some children who may be autistic or have sensory issues.

"There will be a crafts and activities tepee and it will be a small event with just two or three families at a time. We want to provide an event that disabled children and their families can access where they can relax, feel safe and ultimately have fun.

"No child or their siblings should miss-out on visiting Santa because of a disability.”

An example of the tepee Christmas grotto which the charity are hoping to create.

Each child will also receive a gift from Santa which will be matched to their needs.

The grotto will have wheelchair access, disabled toilet facilities and staggered visiting times to prevent the grotto becoming overcrowded. The idea originated from parents at the charity as a result of their own experiences.

Helen added: “We all have children with disabilities and know the challenges this can bring. I know of parents who have children in wheelchairs who’ve not been able to visit grottoes because of a lack of suitable facilities.

"What we want to create is a grotto that can be accessed by any child no matter what their disability. We will also have a Santa Claus who can speak Makaton so he can communicate with those who are non-verbal.”

Estie Rose Henderson, 7, outside a sensory Christmas grotto similar to the one the charity plan to create. Estie is autistic and has a sensory processing disorder and high anxiety.

The charity also feel the grotto will provide a setting in which parents in similar situations “can meet and not feel so isolated”.

It’s hoped the grotto, which will be erected in the Roker URC Chruch garden, will be up and running in the week leading up to Christmas. A target of £4,734 has been set and anyone who would like to donate can do so via the charity’s fundraising page.

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Mia and Leo Follesa, aged 10 and 8. Both children attend The Sensory Place.

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The Sensory Place trustee and parent, Helen Abernethy with son Max Greenwood.