At Barking & Dagenham college, cooking plays an integral role within the Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan of every one of its SEN students who have varying levels of disability and independence with some students using wheelchairs.

To try and make the cooking experience as inclusive as possible, at the start of the 2021 school year back in September, the college opened its new, state of the art multi-generational accessible kitchen. The Freedom brand of kitchen comprises 4 workstations which were installed by a Reading-based retailer of Freedom by Symphony kitchens, Tara Neil Kitchens and Bedrooms.

“All the students love cooking, and it plays a vital role in their development here as we aim to help them ultimately live as independently as possible. Prior to this investment we had very few resources in terms of an accessible kitchen especially for our wheelchair users.  For example, the staff would have to help with mixing ingredients if they couldn’t reach the worktop and when it came to using the oven, staff often had to take over.  Washing up was another challenging task, especially for our wheelchair users as we would have to place a bowl of water in their lap which would result in water going everywhere.   However, now everything has changed thanks to our fantastic new kitchen” commented Curriculum Manager Lisa Talbot.

To ensure the kitchen met the necessary criteria, Lisa, along with lecturer Laura Tickner, other staff members and selected students put together a list of what they all felt the kitchen needed.  This was handed over to the design team at Tara Neil who worked alongside Adam Thomas one of the UK’s leading designers of accessible kitchens, to ensure the Freedom kitchen by Symphony was designed with independence, flexibility, safety and style in mind.

“Tara Neil and Adam were great and as Adam is a wheelchair user himself, we knew he could truly empathize with our students to ensure we would end up with a kitchen which would meet all our requirements.  I would have to say that between them, Ropox, Freedom, Tara Neil and Adam certainly met the brief and in fact all went above and beyond what we expected” continued Lisa.

The kitchen features four Ropox electric rise and fall worktop systems which have been integrated into Freedom’s popular Urban Indigo range with a white worksurface.  Each worktop has a shallow bowl sink with a heat resistant base, so they are safe and easy to use for wheelchair users whilst the waterfall edge on the worktop helps prevent spills and enables people to grip the edge of the worktop for stability if needs be.  Three of the stations have a traditional tap design with a fourth having a front access tap system to further assist students using a wheelchair, the finishing touch to each station is an induction hob which ensures there is no danger of students burning themselves.  Each NEFF ‘slide and hide’ oven has been positioned at a safe and accessible height to ensure all students can use them while the issue of storage has been addressed with tall pantry units that have internal drawers for plenty of pull-out storage.

The students love the new kitchen as do the staff as Laura explains:  “The kitchen is just amazing!  Prior to installation, the students required a lot of support to complete tasks which they could have done independently if we’d had the correct adaptive equipment.  But now the students can do so much more for themselves without me or any other staff members having to help, which is fantastic for their learning and confidence.  The rise and fall work tops are a real game changer for us as now every student regardless of whether or not they use a wheelchair  can easily set the work top to their ideal working height.  That is another great feature of the kitchen, from the work tops and taps to the hobs and oven, everything is incredibly user friendly” 

The students have always embraced cookery lessons, but the staff have all noticed how much more engaged they are now and that is without doubt down to the kitchen being so accessible.  Another popular feature is how the kitchen looks, as each station would look equally at home in a domestic environment unlike the college’s previous kitchen which resembled a catering kitchen.  Everything the staff do at the college is about preparing the students to live as independently as possible so it was vital that the kitchen was as similar as possible to the type of kitchen they might have one day in the future.

“As a teacher, seeing first-hand what a difference the kitchen has made has certainly made all the hard work worthwhile.  Everyone at Ropox, Tara Neil and Freedom along with Adam did an amazing job and I would not hesitate in recommending them to other colleges who are looking to invest in an accessible kitchen for their SEN students” concluded Lisa.

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