The beginning of the new academic year at Thomas Wolsey Ormiston Academy in Ipswich got off to a celebratory start with the official opening of the redeveloped school playground on Thursday 8th September. The new playground will support children and young people across Suffolk with special educational needs and high dependency disabilities.
Almost 2 years since final bidding closed in November 2020, the redevelopment has been made possible through the proceeds raised from the Ed Sheeran: Made in Suffolk Legacy Auction, organised by GeeWizz Charitable Foundation, John and Imogen Sheeran. The auction raised over £506,000, including sponsorship of £100,000 and support in kind from Guy Nicholls and Tru7Group.
“When approached by GeeWizz, Tru7Group signed up as headline sponsors without hesitation. During a global pandemic, or indeed at any moment in time, providing a safe environment for vulnerable children to learn and play outdoors was a total no-brainer. It’s been such an incredible journey for all my team, not only through sponsorship, but through active hands on support by preparing the groundworks and providing building materials. It is a legacy we are all very proud to be a part of.” - Guy Nicholls
The new playground, parts of which were previously inaccessible to pupils in wheelchairs, has been transformed with sensory play areas, beach huts, light tunnel, wildflower gardens and covered outdoor learning areas. Designed by Mia Witham and Forma Landscapes, the playground has been custom-made to support the students at the school, all of whom are aged 3-16 and have physical, medical and/or sensory needs and associated learning difficulties. Alongside primary contractor Pro-Scape, the project has benefited from the support of the Hudson Group, Clarke's of Walsham, Barcham Trees, Suffolk One and many volunteers including parents, staff and the wider school community.
"This is the largest project we have ever supported as a charity, and we are therefore so delighted to see it open to the children and wider community. The generosity of all those involved in this project, from Ed, John and Imogen Sheeran, through to everyone who has donated their time and energies – has been nothing short of inspiring. I would like to convey my heartfelt thanks to all of our generous supporters. We hope that this playground will provide a brilliant space for Thomas Wolsey Ormiston Academy's students for years to come." - Gina Long MBE, Founder of GeeWizz Charitable Trust
The official opening included a display of artworks and a performance by students at the Academy. The celebrations were attended by auction sponsors, support and lot donors including Brian Eno, Suffolk-born musician, composer and record producer, who donated a unique, signed photographic print captured whilst spending lockdown in Suffolk in 2020. It raised £1,260 and was auctioned alongside over 200 lots including Ed Sheeran’s handwritten lyrics to Perfect.
“I was delighted to support the auction and to be able to join the students at Thomas Wolsey for the opening of the new playground. The image was taken whilst on a walk with my brother on a dramatic July day on Benacre Beach, where the sea is gnawing away at the land. Every year the beach moves a bit further west, and every year Benacre gets smaller.” - Brian Eno
Speaking on behalf of the students, staff and parents at Thomas Wolsey Academy, outgoing Principal, Helen MacDougall added "This whole project truly has been a community endeavour, and we're all so proud to see it open. There are, of course, so many people to thank, from the businesses who have supported the build, through to the members of staff who picked up their paint brushes and helped pitch in. Of course, we are hugely grateful to GeeWizz, whose support for this project has been inspiring. We know that this playground will make a real difference to not just our students, but their families, by providing them with a safe, engaging space to enjoy themselves and thrive.”
You can watch how the wonderful playground came together here.