This year our Victorian Christmas workshops were as popular as ever, attracting 268 people with disabilities, including 175 children from 12 specialist schools
We had visitors with widely different needs , from children excluded from school due to behavioural problems, to youngsters with complex and life- limiting physical disabilities, to elderly people living in care.
To ensure everyone felt relaxed and welcome, we offered 'bespoke' sessions which could be specially adapted as required.
We also designed our festive activities to include as many sensory elements as possible and as all our facilities allow easy access for wheelchairs, even those with very limited mobility could be fully engaged and involved.
At the beginning of each session, our guests were greeted by Victorian schoolteachers in full costume and shown to our 19th-century schoolroom, which had been adorned with swathes of evergreen.
Here we handed out Victorian decorations made of interesting textures such as wood, felt and fir cones, which were particularly attractive for children with visual impairments - and everyone enjoyed hanging them on the tree.
After lighting the tree up and celebrating with some familiar old carols, our Victorian visitors could choose either to roll beeswax candles or to make sweet-smelling sachets of pot pourri to take home as presents. As lavender can trigger epilepsy, we offered alternatives such as rose or camomile and we encouraged our learners to make other small choices during their visit as this aids participation and confidence, especially for those with learning disabilities such as autism.
Then we made gingerbread, using a traditional Victorian recipe. Everyone was urged to smell the spices, mix the ingredients, feel the dough and roll it out into soft slabs. As many children will try to mouth or eat interesting new objects, all our materials had to be either edible or non-toxic - and raw dough provided all the therapeutic qualities of clay, but in a much safer form.
Of course we gave everyone the chance to investigate some cooked gingerbread too, which went down very well!
Finally, our younger visitors were encouraged to decorate a special box to take their Christmas booty home in. For those with complex disabilities or visual impairments, these were decorated with textured scratch-and-sniff stickers to enhance their experience even further.
At the end of the day, everyone seemed to have enjoyed their journey back in time and as we said goodbye and wished everyone a happy Christmas, we felt sure we would see many of them again in the future.