Side By Side Special School

Project Background

Side By Side Special School is a community school for children aged 2-19. Based in London, they support the learning and development of its diverse community of pupils, all with Educational, Health & Care Plans (EHCP) and additional needs.

In the summer of 2022, the trust head of Side By Side School contacted our sensory team with an exciting proposal.

Inspired by a newly awarded grant, Side By Side wanted to expand their school and develop a new £11.6m state-of-the-art campus to better support their students’ needs and increase their capacity from 80 to 150 pupils.

It was important that the new building would be open and accessible for all of the school’s students, no matter their age or needs – which is where our sensory team got involved. We were asked to design, collaborate and instal multiple sensory spaces that would cater to and support the whole Side By Side school community.


Sensory Project Design Brief

  • Create inclusive sensory spaces that are accessible to all
  • Design adaptable areas that can be used by Side by Side’s youngest and oldest students
  • Inspire play, learning and connection


Our Plan

To meet Side By Side’s multi-sensory needs, we took a holistic multi-room approach to the project, designing and developing four unique sensory spaces.

Not only would we provide a space for every student to explore their senses, but we’d also facilitate wider access to sensory support throughout the day, creating a safe, collaborative and playful school environment perfect for learning.


Side By Side Soft Play Room

Soft Play Room

We designed the Soft Play Room for exploration and comfort. Cosy lilac safety padding decorates the floor and walls, creating a soft canvas for play and a calming colour for visual stimulation/distraction.

Students have space to move and put their motor skills to the test as they climb up the steps and walk across the platform tunnels before sliding down and making a splash in the ball pool!

The space can be used by groups of students for social sessions to develop skills together in a controlled environment. While individual students can be guided by a teacher in personal development sessions, calmly building bodily awareness with the Bodyrocker or laying back and stimulating their proprioceptive systems on the vibrant vibrating bumpers.

Room Includes: Sloped Wall Padding, Soft Play Steps, Platform with Tunnel, Slide, Shape Set, Ball Pool, Bodyrocker, Vibrating Bumpers, and Accessible Wheelchair-Friendly Floor Padding.


Side By Side Sensory Room

Sensory Room

Dreams and wonder inspired Side by Side’s Sensory Room. We designed the space for students to escape busy classrooms and find comfort in a cosy area that warms their bodies, minds and emotions.

Dreams: Students can lay back on the musical waterbed and experience music immersively as they feel their favourite songs vibrate through the water mattress, lulling them into a therapeutic calm. Or, if they’d prefer a cosier musical experience, students can cuddle up into the Resonance Beanbag and experience the same therapeutic proprioceptive stimulation from the comfort of a colourful beanbag.

Wonder: Students can go on an active adventure, dancing, jumping, splatting and interacting with the worlds projected onto the floor by the omi projector. Dive into the illuminated ball pool and swim amongst the twinkling fibre optics. Or gaze at the bubble tube’s mesmerising bubbly light from the comfort of the soft padded podium

Room Includes: Bubble Wall, Musical Waterbed, Bubble Tube & Podium, Fibre Optics, LED Wall Wash, Laser Stars Projector, omiVista Interactive Floor Projector, Illuminated Corner Ball Pool, Resonance Beanbag, and Floor & Wall Padding.


Side By Side Sensory Integration Room

Occupational Therapy Rooms

The bright, blue and spacious occupational therapy room was designed with movement and development in mind. Soft padding lines the walls and floors to create a safe space for exploration and play, with strong swing hooks firmly secured to the ceiling – making the room a blank canvas for therapeutic development.

From Platform Swings that engage the whole body to softly sloping Roller Ramps that challenge students’ sense of balance – the room can be used by occupational therapists to personally tailor each sensory session in the room to each student.

Room Includes: Wall & Floor Safety Padding, Platform Swing.


Side By Side Sensory Corner

Classroom Sensory Corner

Special sensory areas hidden in classroom corners offer students a space to break out if they need to step away from a lesson; Taking control of their behaviour and reducing the instance of a meltdown is a productive way of productively balancing calming and learning.

Room Includes: Interactive Wall Panels (Fireworks Panel, Bubble Wall), Fibre Optic Side Glow, Bubble Tube & Podium, Wall & Floor Safety Padding

The Beacon Centre

Project Background

The Beacon Centre is a 16-bed specialist adolescent unit for young people aged 12-17 who may have difficulty coping with emotional, social, family, and mental health problems.

Specialist staff at the centre work to support residents through a mixture of therapy and medication, but they were looking to offer a more holistic approach to their care, which prompted them to get in touch with our sensory team!

The centre wished to transform a previously disused ‘L’ shaped room into an accessible multisensory space. The room’s design would have to be inclusive of all of their resident’s needs; a soft space where residents can calm and relax, as well as offering interactive elements to stimulate and re-energise those who might be feeling low.


Sensory Project Design Brief

  • A multifunctional space that can be used for calming/grounding and stimulating/energising residents.
  • The ability for interactivity so that users can create a personalised sensory experience.
  • A robust, strong and safe design


Our Plan

The Beacon Centre Case Study


It was an exciting challenge to design a space that could be as active as it could be calming, so residents could use the room no matter their mood.

We started by fitting the room with made-to-measure bespoke safety padding, soft grey along the walls, and midnight black on the floor. Although neutral, the shades offer a calming ambience and a contrast that will help users centre and ground themselves in the space.

If users are looking for a calming sensory session, they can lie back on the cosy, vibroacoustic bench set, listen and feel their favourite music, and therapeutically watch the clouds float across the magical LED Sky Ceiling tiles. Or, if they are feeling active, they could get up and explore the 300+ interactive games and activities on the omiVista floor projector.

The Beacon Centre Case Study

Safe & Secure Sensory

Our design team ensured the sensory space was safe for low-risk mental health users to explore independently. Almost all of the sensory resources in the room were securely installed into the room’s ceiling, secure, and out of the way – leaving floor space for movement, exploration and play. Whilst the few loose resources, like the sound system and Solar 250 projector, were safely housed in a cabinet.

The Beacon Centre Case Study

Personal Experiences

Feeling like you’re in control of your surroundings is a key part of the recovery from several mental health disorders – especially conditions like Anxiety or OCD – so we designed this sensory room with individual control and personalisation in mind.

Residents can use a smart device and the MSE Room Control App to transform the space into their personal wellbeing centre. Whether choosing to light the room with the calming glow of the Hurricane Tubes or casting their favourite Netflix shows onto the big wall projector, it allows users the chance to express themselves authentically.

The Beacon Centre is a part of Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust.

Kisharon Special School

Rhino UK designed and installed multiple therapeutic sensory spaces for Kisharon Special School in the heart of London.

Time For A Transformation

In late 2018 our sensory team headed down to London to visit the Kisharon Special School site – an old listed building, ready to be transformed into a new special school. With tall ceilings, wide windows and listed status, there were many challenges to overcome. But it didn’t take long for our design team to develop a robust sensory design proposal for the Kisharon Trust. A proposal that was also quickly approved by building conservationists.

Kisharon’s aim was to create engaging spaces that would provide the best learning, development and emotional support for their students. With hopes that their school could become a beacon of inclusive learning and specialist therapy services within the local community.

Our plans matched these goals perfectly.

We devised a big project involving creating four different sensory spaces designed to enrich the development of the students’ minds, imaginations, and senses.


The New Sensory Spaces

Occupational Therapy Integration Room: For Therapy

Therapy sessions are important for children who don’t fully understand the way their bodies work. As Kisharon Special School community was getting ready to welcome disabled and severely autistic children, they were especially interested in developing a Sensory Integration space. A special space designed to develop students muscles, balance and inner confidence with the help of an Occupational Therapist.

We developed a custom swing beam that would span the full width and height of the room, allowing OT’s complete use of the room’s soft padded floor without any physical disruption. In addition, an integrated swing beam and hoist system would allow disabled access to every section of the room, perfect for every type of therapy session.

Alongside the physical infrastructure, a central part of our design was to showcase the room’s grand windows, essential to the building’s heritage. Not only would they let in lots of natural light, but it would also heighten the sensory experience, connecting the space to the outside world.

We also selected and recommended a range of sensory integration aids to be used within the space, from swings to gym ballsbouncers, rockers, scooters and more. Creating the perfect playground for OT’s to challenge and develop students motor and proprioceptive senses.


Multi-Sensory Room: For Relief, Relaxing & Calming

Multi-Sensory Rooms are key features of each of our installations, and we wanted Kisharon’s to shine bright as a beacon of inclusivity.

We crafted a special made to measure padded platform, to hold three brilliant bubble tubes for a spectacular visual display, along with several blooms of fibre optics for students to experience interesting, colourful visual stimulation from the comfort of their own hands.

The sensory room can also transform into an interactive playground. The bright Omi Vista+ Interactive Floor Projector provides hours of engaging sensory games, whilst a wireless Colour Cube allows users to choose and change the mood, lighting decorating the room’s walls.

Alongside the interactivity, we also wanted the room to be used for quiet moments. We achieved this by including personal sensory elements (tactile bamboo fibre optics & relaxing waterbed) and comforting spaces (resonance beanbag & illuminated ball pool).

Interactive Sensory Lighting: Omi Vista+LED Wall WashBubble Columns and Colour Cube.

Personal Relaxation: Bamboo Fibre OpticsFibre Optic Side GlowWaterbedLaser Stars.

Comforting Multi-Sensory: Resonance BeanbagIlluminated Ball Pool, Bubble Wall.


Hydropool: For Therapy & Fun

Perfect for increasing bodily awareness and releasing pent up energy, a Hydropool was a sensory element that the Kisharon team were excited about creating. It would be a brand new sensory facility for both students and teachers to explore and enjoy.

We installed a mesmerising Hydro-Solar LED Projector within the Hydropool area so that users could fully immerse themselves within this unique sensory experience. In addition, Solar LED Effect Wheels gave the space the perfect underwater theme, heightening the calming and relaxing nature of the space.

Whilst the integrated mood lighting outside and inside the pool creates an atmospheric space perfect for hydrotherapy sessions.


PMLD Classrooms: For Study, Focus & Interactive Sensory Classes

To make learning spaces more conducive for students with PMLD, we recommended portable sensory units that would stimulate, distract and distil any classroom anxieties.

PMLD students had previously lacked the opportunity to benefit from sensory experiences due to the inability to access sensory rooms. Although, portable sensory items allow sensory to be brought straight to these students, at any time, any place and very quickly, with minimal disturbance for both teachers and students.

The OmiVista Mobii can be wheeled between classrooms for interactive tabletop lessons and more hands-on and imaginative learning sessions. Whilst a Sensory Voyager can be used to support students experiencing sensory overloads. Voyagers can be brought close to desks or wheeled to a quiet space in a room – allowing students to calm down and relax until they feel like they’re ready to take an active part in the class again.

These portable resources will reduce the need to remove students from classroom environments. Creating inclusive learning spaces that break down the barriers between school and sensory.

Kisharon Special School.

Kensington Queensmill School

Building a Sensory School

Back in 2017, we were contacted by architecture firm Penoyre & Prasad to collaborate on an inclusive therapeutic sensory design project for a new special school resource at Barlby Primary School in London.

The school had recently received a £39 million pound investment from Kensington & Chelsea Council to provide essential special needs education facilities that had previously been absent in the borough. As a result, families of children with disabilities and special needs were forced to travel out of the borough to access the educational support they needed. The council saw this priority problem as a priority that they needed to resolve.

With a September 2021 opening date in mind, our sensory team started planning and preparing for what was sure to be another inspirational sensory install.


Our Design

Our integrated design consisted of three different sensory areas that would become a part of the new Kensington Queensmill School site at Barlby. The Sensory Integration, Soft Play & AV Rooms were inspired to nurture student’s learning, development and growth.


The Body Shop: Sensory Integration Space

Designed to help students feel more comfortable and in control of their bodies, the Body Shop is the school’s in-house physiotherapy space. Through personalised sensory integration sessions, students will have the chance to develop their proprioceptive, vestibular, and motor skills by interacting with the swings, scooters and ramps placed in the room.

Soft safety padding lines the room’s walls and floors, offering comfort and protection while students actively explore the space.

Soft Play Room

The bright and colourful soft play room is an exciting space where students can let loose and have fun. Designed as a second space away from classrooms and learning, students have the opportunity to de-stress and centre themselves through sensory stimulation.

Students can bounce away on the trampoline, dive into the colourful ball pool, roll around in the soft roller tunnel, and climb, crawl and jump whilst joyfully traversing the large soft play shapes – building essential proprioceptive and motor skills.

AV Room

Inspiring, inclusive, and immersive AV rooms present the future of learning. Dynamic images and videos light up the walls and stimulate wandering minds, capturing their attention, reducing stress, and making learning undeniably fun.

The rooms interactivity also lets students learn actively with their whole bodies, using their arms to pop bubbles, legs to kick a football, or their wheelchair to play a melodic tune on the xylophone.


Further Information:


Chelsea Football Club

Rhino UK designed and installed an interactive, inclusive & accessible sensory room and viewing area at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge stadium.


Chelsea Football Club Sensory Room.

North Middlesex Hospital

Rhino UK transformed North Middlesex Hospital’s Paediatric Department, brightening the sanitised environment with a warm sensory glow and improving patients’ hospital experiences.

Bringing The Outside, Inside

Entering a hospital complex can be a daunting experience, and it’s something that we don’t do very often. We’re welcomed to a strange clinical environment that seems to suspend all our typical senses, putting us inside a weird sensory void, which can be quite uncomfortable, especially for children.

Roughly 3 million children visit A&E departments across the country each year. This means 3 million children are experiencing an already uncomfortable situation even more uncomfortably than they should, which was something that the staff at North Middlesex Hospital A&E Department wanted to fix.

After an impressive staff fundraising drive, the department had raised enough money to transform their A&E Department into a bright environment that children wouldn’t be as scared to visit, which is where our sensory design team got involved.

Our Design & Solution

The key to our design was to counter the clinical with a sparkle of mother nature so that each patient’s sensory experience could be nurtured by nature.

(Mr) Blue Sky:  Offering relaxing windows to the outside world and magical portals for sunny daydreams, we installed LED Sky Ceilings within the children’s waiting area and treatment cubicles. The images that the special LED Tiles would project were specially chosen by the staff, which included shady tree cover and a fun flurry of floating balloons. Perfect for bringing the outside, inside.

Sensory Treat(s)ment: We gave each treatment room a special sensory theme that would be both a visual and tactile treat. Kitting them out with Solar ProjectorsLED Ceiling Tiles and interactive Activity Panels, we made each treatment space an encompassing sensory area. All of the interactive elements were specially chosen for their robust and easy to clean nature so that they could be effectively sanitised between uses.

24h Sensory: In order to cause as little disruption to the busy department, we completed the sensory transformation throughout the night. From 1 am to 7 am, our sensory installation team created the new sensory space, just in time for a celebratory breakfast butty when they were done.

An Extra Sensory Sparkle: For a complete sensory treat, we worked with other departments within the hospital to supply sensory equipment, toys and panels to make their areas more sensory-friendly.

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