We highlighted the community benefits of our immersive classroom

Danecourt is a primary special school that caters for 234 children with special educational needs, including complex learning difficulties, autism and social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs. Our mission is to provide these children with a stimulating learning environment that allows them to become ‘STARS’ – self-reliant, team players, aspirational, resilient and successful. In addition, Danecourt School provides support to the mainstream schools within Maritime Academy Trust, which comprises 13 primaries across Bexley, Greenwich and Medway.

Having seen an immersive classroom at an exhibition, our headteacher, Cathryn Falconer, felt it would be invaluable for all of our children. For those with sensory needs, it could provide the appropriate calming or stimulating environment to enable them to access their learning. For other children, who find visiting different places (or even going into a shop) quite daunting, it would enable them to practise walking down the street, experiencing the sounds and smells.

With three interactive film walls, such specialist classrooms provide a multi-sensory space, where teachers can take pupils virtually beyond the school walls into experiences they might not otherwise encounter. Projected images, controllable lights, sounds, temperature and vibrations enable the children to explore virtual experiences in a safe environment. This means we can prepare them for upcoming school trips and help equip them with life skills, as well as recreating exciting experiences such as swimming with dolphins, or provide them with a safe, calming space when they are having a challenging day.

We launched our ‘Imagine the Impossible’ fundraising campaign on the InvestMyCommunity platform in early November, with a view to raising the £150,000 needed over the following year to 18 months. We involved our pupils in creating a wonderful launch video, using a mobile interactive classroom brought to the school. The children loved the experience and are very excited about getting one of their own! Indeed, most of them took part in our whole school fun run to help raise money.

As well as demonstrating the benefits for our children, our campaign also highlighted how the immersive classroom could become a resource for the whole community. Building links with local communities is a priority for our Trust, so we want to make the classroom available to other schools in Medway, as well as local charities, care homes and toddler groups.

To spread the word, we ran several events around the launch: a supporter and parent both completed the Virtual London Marathon and 20 members of Danecourt staff took part in Kent Glow In The Park 5K fun run. Our local MP, Rehman Chishti, also lent his support. As a result of our high-profile campaign, including coverage in KentOnline, people have begun choosing us as their charity. We were delighted to receive £300 from a local pub quiz event and the school’s catering provider, Contract Dining Company, also donated £1,000. Even with Christmas and the cancellation of some fundraising activities due to Covid, we raised nearly £10,000 by the start of this year.

  • Kathryn Jackman, teacher and fundraiser, Danecourt School, Gillingham, Kent

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