A feast for the senses

Sonny the Snail's founder Kari Payne with garden volunteer Hayes Rees, a fundraiser with MacMillan
Sonny the Snail’s founder Kari Payne with garden volunteer Hayes Rees, a fundraiser with MacMillan

How an allotment plot became a haven for children with autism, writes Olivia Devereux-Evans

A Ponders End ‘sensory garden’ is getting a makeover ahead of its reopening this summer.

Sonny the Snail’s Sensory Garden was set up in 2019 to help children with sensory deprivation, such as autism. It contains a series of homemade features that are intended to appeal to all five senses, such as a music wall, sensory boards, pond, pirate ship, a train, plus lots of herbs and flowers.

Founder Kari Payne named the space at Falcoln Fields Allotments after her son, Sonny, who is autistic and had the idea for a community sensory garden. Kari explained the snail was added to the name because she likens autism to a snail – things take time but they get there.

Kari told the Dispatch: “It is not like going to the park where you have got certain groups that are staying together.

“When I take Sonny to the park it automatically feels like he is being singled out, because of the way he is. At Sonny the Snail’s he is not looked at as different. Autism is the norm down there.

“Everyone has got their own personality. It is great to see everyone experiencing happiness. Sonny’s is a glorious place for anyone that has not got a garden.”

Donations are now being sought to replace tools that were stolen over the last year while the garden was closed because of the pandemic. Kari also wants to “re-energise” the space and tidy it up before it reopens. She aims to sell the fruit and vegetables grown on a nearby allotment to raise more funds, and is even creating a ‘snack shack’ to provide sandwiches and other refreshments for visitors.

“Children can grow their own vegetables and paint their own plant pots,” said Kari, emphasising the importance of the garden. “They can get messy, and they can get mucky. It is ideal for the elderly. Anyone with mental health problems.

“It is beautiful because you can just ‘be’. It is nice to be able to look up at the sky rather than at a tower block.”

Sonny the Snail’s has received an influx of community support and donations following the difficulties it faced in the last year, and Kari does extensive fundraising with other charities as well. This year, she is working with the Sea Cadets and MacMillan Cancer Support to raise money in conjunction with Sonny the Snail’s, and volunteers from both charities are helping with the work to spruce up the garden.

For more information about Sonny the Snail’s Sensory Garden:
Facebook /sonnythesnail