Tucked behind the beautiful buildings and in the grounds of the North East Autism Society’s Thornhill Park School, the new sensory gardens and walkways were celebrated by students, staff, trustees, families and NEAS mascot Pawsum the Panda, at this week’s Garden Party.


Proudly wearing his Newcastle Falcons rugby shirt in honour of Wooden Spoon, the Rugby Charity for Children which led the way in funding the school’s outdoor landscaping project, Pawsum helped officially open the new garden with student Jordan Hayward, Mike Stephenson, chairman of Wooden Spoon’s Durham Region, and school head teacher Christine Cave. Our CEO, John Phillipson was also there proudly supporting the Sunderland school team.


Inspired by the Lost Gardens of Heligan, a small band of students began imagining what a ‘dream garden’ for their school would look like. With help from their art teacher and an artist, plans started coming together – and the students then even pitched their proposal to our CEO and fundraising team.


John Phillipson said: “The pitch just got better and better and so did their ideas. To see it come together tonight is remarkable. I’ll never stop being taken aback by how much our children and young people can achieve when they find themselves in the right environments. The difference, not just in this space, but in these young men… well, it’s incredible.”


Determined to make their hard work come to fruition the incredible fundraising team set about finding funders and volunteers to turn dreams into reality. The result was showcased this week at a spectacular opening celebration in the form of a garden party.


Cutting the ribbon, Mr Stephenson and Jordan opened the gates to the Wooden Spoon Sensory Woodland Garden, revealing a picture-perfect English country garden complete with bunting, sparkling drinks and a BBQ all set within the new walled garden area.


Representing the five students of the school who took the lead in shaping the project, 19-year-old Jordan gave a speech. He said: “It all started last year in an art lesson… James, Ben, Marwan, Leo and myself worked hard as a team together.


“We’ve all tried really hard and we worked in sunshine and rain to finish our marvelous garden and we hope you all enjoy it.”

Desperate to get on with the main celebrations he even finished with a joke.

Jordan added: “Knock Knock… who’s there… lettuce… lettuce who? Lettuce in so we can find out!”


Wooden Spoon’s Mr Stephenson, who provided a £10,000 contribution to the project, also offered his congratulations on the evening, saying: “I’m hugely impressed by all the work that’s gone on here. From my last visit when things were in the foundation stages to this wonderful area now, is remarkable. Wooden Spoon, as a charity for children, is delighted to have been a part of helping this extraordinary organisation create this wonderful sensory garden.”


The gardens, situated behind the Thornholme road-school comprise lawns, woodland walks, ornamental features which came from the students’ ideas including a grass dog and dragon, solar lights, story telling area, wind chimes and colourful sensory tunnel.


Head Teacher Christine Cave said: “For children and young people with autism having this space is just phenomenal. The sensory aspects will not only aid their learning but also their enjoyment of life. We are of course hugely grateful to all those who funded the project and supported it in kind through donations and volunteering but I’m most proud of our students who really have worked so hard. It will be a fantastic resource for our students for many years to come.”


In his speech, John Phillipson, NEAS chief executive officer, thanked all those who came together in order to see the sensory garden established. Included were Wooden Spoon, councilor Peter Wood, the Bruce Wake charity, St James’ Place Foundation, Green Hall Foundation, Dobbie’s Garden Centres, those who volunteered their time, contractor Brambledown and Groundworks for project management.


Take a virtual tour of our garden by clicking the video below: