Above - At the site of the sensory garden at Mulcahy Park, Clonmel are - Marie McMahon, Rotary Club Clonmel; Anthony Coleman, Clonmel Borough District; Catherine Kennedy, South Tipperary Autism Support Group; Isabel Cambie, South Tipperary Development Company; Brendan Nyhan, President, Rotary Clonmel; Clare Cashman, Tipperary Local Community Development Committee; and District Mayor Catherine Carey.
Clonmel's facilities for children and young adults with special needs will be enhanced in the coming months, with the opening of the new sensory playground and garden at Mulcahy Park.
The sod-turning will take place on April 29 and the playground - the only one of its kind being built to such a scale in the country - is scheduled to open in June.
A concerted fundraising drive across the community raised €125,000, a total that has helped the playground, which will be adjacent to the park's existing playground, to become a reality.
"With more and more children being diagnosed with autism and other special needs, a sensory, all-inclusive playground in the town is necessary", says Catherine Kennedy of the South Tipp Autism Support Group.
"It will just make life so much easier for parents and those looking after children with special needs. Now they will have some place to go if the child is experiencing difficulties", she says.
Clonmel Rotary Club is one of the main supporters of the project and its president, Brendan Nyhan, says the playground will be "an oasis of calm".
"The ethos and guiding sense is its inclusivity and it will be a place where the whole family can go", he says.
The picnic area, with its benches and seats that can seat wheelchair users and able-bodied people side by side, is an example of the inclusive nature of the playground.
The equipment in the playground will all be sensory-based.
It will include a wheelchair-accessible sunken trampoline; textured walkways that are beneficial for people who may be toe-walkers, and wheelchair users; and safety-harnessed swings for adults and children.
Outdoor musical equipment adds another dimension to any playground, and the new playground's metal glockenspiel is a fully-tuned instrument that's designed to stay in tune, despite the weather.
The new sensory playground and garden will be a great addition to Clonmel
"It is an essential piece in any playground and has been shown to help children with ASD and other issues", says Catherine Kennedy.
"Sensory play is very important and a sensory, all-inclusive playground/garden can be very therapeutic for people who have sensory issues", she says.
"It may be used as a calming place and as a gentle way to stimulate the senses.
“This type of environment can become a place where children and adults with special needs and sensory processing disorder can feel safe and comfortable in exploring their senses without feeling overwhelmed by them".
The Autism Support Group made the initial application for funding, some of which came from LEADER, a European Union initiative to support rural development projects.
Valuable contributions were also made by the local Rotary Club, the National Lottery, the South Tipp emergency services, Tipperary County Council, the Rugby Club and the employees' charity fund at Boston Scientific.
"The whole thing has come together in just over twelve months", says Rotary Club president Brendan Nyhan.
"Everybody has been looking for ways to help us.
"We're pushing an open door a lot of the time. It will be a great resource for the local community".
Another Rotary Club member, Marie McMahon, praised the County Council for committing to take over the responsibility for the playground.
"This will ensure that it's monitored and maintained", she said, as she also paid tribute to the support offered by the council.
Kenneth Hennessy is the architect/project manager and the design is provided by Garden Escapes.
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