Students and staff at REACH Lanarkshire Autism SCIO in Cambuslang were left “gutted” on the morning of Friday, September 28, 2018, when they showed up to the center to find the children’s sensory garden had been vandalized overnight.
The center had just opened a few weeks earlier, for the purpose of offering “emotional and practical support and guidance to individuals and families living with an ASD” and spreading awareness for the disorder throughout the community. The sensory garden was meant to provide a safe area for children to play and learn in at the center. It included raised vegetable garden beds, a doll house, a blackboard, wind chimes, tents, stepping stones, tires, trails, and various lawn ornaments.
“It was a safe space for kids and it gave parents a facility their children could use without them having to worry,” says Ellen Feerick, a neighbourhood development and activity co-ordinator with REACH. “Sometimes it was difficult for them to take their kids to a normal park. I don’t know why anyone would want to do this.”
It had taken months of effort before the center’s opening to secure funding for the sensory garden and to round up volunteers to help make this safe and comfortable place to play into a reality. Many of the autistic children who receive services from the organization had a hand in creating the sculptures and setting up the play equipment in the sensory garden, but they weren’t able to enjoy it for long before its destruction.
Sadly, several components of the sensory garden were completely destroyed and strewn about the area, while others were stolen. The garden has been closed down entirely until staff are able to clean up the pieces and replace some of the broken equipment.
“I’m disgusted at what’s happened,” says Feerick. “Myself and Helen are gutted because this was our project and so much work was put into it from other people too. A lot of volunteers helped out and we received many donations. The kids helped us make stuff for the garden and we were really pleased with how it all turned out. The project began in March this year and we officially opened the garden at a family fun day on August 11.”
REACH Lanarkshire staff turned to Facebook to break the news to its patrons and ask for help finding the culprit and rebuilding the sensory garden.
“Not a good day in REACH Lanarkshire Autism today,” the Facebook post read. “We came in to find our Sensory Garden vandalised. Our children with higher support needs get so much benefit from this garden, and it’s really sad to see all our hard work ruined 😪😪😪 Our staff are working hard in the community to form activities for the children in this area. Please keep your eyes peeled. We have relied on donations, and now we need to start again. Garden closed at the moment, as it’s unsafe for the children.”
Fortunately, several people and businesses have already reached out to the organization via Facebook in an effort to help them get their sensory garden back on its feet. Some are offering their manpower or artistic expertise, while others hope to be able to help REACH Lanarkshire raise funds for new play equipment.
Staff at REACH Lanarkshire appreciate all the support and are asking the public to keep their eyes open in search of clues as to who might be responsible for the destruction of their once beautiful sensory garden.
Sometimes, the most awful crimes make way for acts of unimaginable kindness and support. Thank you to all those who have offered your assistance. The world needs more people with big hearts like you!
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?