Milltownpass Tidy Towns youth officer Wayne Wright cutting the ribbon to officially open the new sensory garden; included in the picture: Milltownpass Tidy Towns volunteers (in hi-viz vests): Aoife Lynskey, Gina Wright, Mary Corcoran, Ann Duignan, Tommy Corcoran and Christy Wright; Sam Jeffreys of Milltown Passive Builds; Jimmy Flood of Abbey Gate Craft; school principal Pauline O’Hara and vice-principal Emer Bermingham; and sixth class students, Molly Bracken, Liam Fox, Daniel Healey, Fionn Coyne and Calum Rowly.

Official opening of sensory garden and polytunnel at St Joseph's NS, Milltownpass

When the volunteers of Milltownpass Tidy Towns were awarded a grant of just half of what they had applied for, they decided to scale down their initial plan – but that was to the benefit of the local national school.

Aoife Lynskey, PRO, Milltownpass Tidy Towns, explains: “We had initially applied for €20,000 funding from AXA Parks to develop a public green space in the village. After being awarded €10,000 of the €20,000 originally applied for, we decided to repurpose the money, and thankfully, the Community Foundation of Ireland, who administer the fund, were fully supportive of the change of use.

“We approached St Joseph’s school with the idea to do a sensory garden and polytunnel, and they got on board immediately. They told us it was something that they had hoped to do for years but didn’t have the funding for. So the stars were aligning and the timing was perfect!”

The outcome of that agreement led to great excitement on Friday May 5 at the school as the local Tidy Towns team gathered with staff and pupils to cut the ribbon to officially open the new sensory garden and polytunnel.

Tidy Towns volunteers Christy Wright, Ann Duignan, Ronan Lynskey, Shay Grennan, Wayne Wright and Sean Wright.

Aoife takes up the story: “We set about ordering the polytunnel and gathering requirements for the sensory garden from the school. They wanted something low maintenance and durable, with plenty of colour, along with sound and movement elements to cater for the unique needs of the autistic centre within the school.

“It also needed to be usable even after heavy rain so that classes could be held outside.

“With that criteria, we drafted a proposal for the design of the space and the materials to be used, and once the school signed off on our design, we got to work.”

Work began in February and more than 200 working hours by 10 Tidy Towns volunteers were invested in painting, cleaning, manually moving soil, building the sensory and play equipment, and laying the grass.

“We had to lay the artificial grass ourselves as we didn’t have enough in the budget to pay a professional company to do it,” said Aoife. “That was a huge learning curve but thankfully we have a talented volunteer and CE worker, Christy Wright, who was able to figure it out and guide the team in completing the work.

“We’re immensely grateful to two local businesses without whose support we wouldn’t have been able to complete the project – firstly, Peter Loftus and Sam Jefferys from Milltown Passive Builds, who supported the team through the entire project; did the ground work at a reduced price; and facilitated keener supplier rates through the business.

“Also, Jimmy Flood from Abbey Gate Craft, who designed the steel reinforced play bridge and made it at a reduced price too.

“We’re thankful to AXA Parks for providing the funding for the project. We also thank vice-principal Emer Birmingham and all the teachers for their support, and the children, who are already making full use of the amenities.”

The children held a successful cake sale last month to raise funds for additional equipment for the sensory garden.

“This was a big undertaking for our group, much bigger than we had anticipated, and we’re proud of the commitment and dedication of our volunteers, whose hard work has resulted in these amenities finally becoming a reality for the children,” said Aoife.

Ms Birmingham said: “We had been planning a project like this for a couple of years and had been working on getting the funding. When Aoife and the Tidy Towns committee approached us to help us out, we were delighted. Collaborations like this between school and community groups foster a wonderful sense of belonging in our students.

“The children from both our mainstream classes and REACH centre are delighted to have a new space to play.

“The garden is especially important to the children in our REACH classes, as it offers a wide range of movement and sensory experiences in a safe environment. The children are delighted to sit and enjoy some of their classes outside as well. Huge thanks to all involved.”

• The project was made possible as a result of €10,000 funding secured by Milltownpass Tidy Towns via AXA Parks Fund, an initiative to ‘support sustainable, community-led projects creating or improving green spaces in their localities’ (according to AXA Parks at