St Francis Church, Valley Park, has received a grant from Test Valley Borough Council to invest in sensory play equipment, as part of a wider project to better support children with additional needs and their families.
St Francis is a diverse community, including many members who have physical or learning disabilities, additional needs and complex health needs. It’s also understood that many disabilities are hidden, so there may be more needs that others are not aware of.
It was because of this diversity that St Francis decided to grow in their understanding of what it means to be a truly welcoming church. The first step was in January 2022 when St Francis became a Roofbreaker Church, accredited by Christian charity ‘Through the Roof’, who provide training and advice to help churches become more accessible for all.
Then, earlier this summer, a focus group was held with participants who have experience (either lived or through their work) of the needs of children with complexities, additional needs or learning disabilities. This group discussed the things that currently go well at St Francis for children with additional needs and their families, and where there is room for improvement, such as the barriers to attending worship and other church activities with a child with additional needs. The discussions were enlightening and the wisdom shared was invaluable!
Using the outcomes of the focus group and the generous grant from Test Valley Borough Council to purchase sensory play equipment, the church are now looking towards setting up a play and support group at St Francis for Under 5s with additional needs, along with their parents and carers. The aim of this is to offer support to people of all faiths and none through midweek provision.
In addition, St Francis will be able to use the outcomes of the focus group to make changes to their services (e.g. on a Sunday morning Junior Church or at Messy Church) and community events (like the mid-week Café or at their annual Summer Festival) to help ensure that individual needs are met and everyone feels included.
St Francis aims to run two pilot sessions of the new additional needs group in October and November, so more information will soon be available!