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Illawarra’s first community-based multi-sensory environment opens

Sensory room is custom-built to cater to local needs

Individuals with cognitive and physical impairments can now experience the world in a very different way, thanks to a community-based multi-sensory room opening on Thursday 29 June in the Horsley Community Centre.

The CareWays Community Sensory Room provides a safe and secure environment to explore sensory stimulation for a range of differing disabilities, for people with dementia, for therapists and even pregnant women.

The room is a joint project between the University of Wollongong’s (UOW) strategic interdisciplinary research program, Global Challenges, and CareWays Community, with funding from UOW’s Community Engagement Grant Scheme and various community partners including the IMB Bank Community Foundation.

A multi-sensory environment (MSE) provides a safe, non-threatening environment for people with cognitive, behavioural and physical impairments to engage in a range of sensory experiences.

Controlled sensory experiences can both calm and stimulate the primary senses using sensory-based materials such as fibre optics sprays, bubble tubes, music, colour, lighting and aroma. 

With regular exposure, an MSE can be beneficial in improving concentration and focus as well as mobilisation, and promote creativity, cognitive development, social, and communication skills. They have also been shown to reduce repetitive behaviour, anxiety, apathy and restlessness in people with developmental disabilities and dementia for example.

Sensory room collageThe Sensory Room is put through its paces.


CareWays Community Operations Manager Michael Szafraniec said he was delighted with the final result, and to be able to provide a service to the community that can be accessed when they need it most.

“We are particularly lucky having UOW on our doorstep and working with a team of researchers to provide this opportunity. Some of what we are doing is definitely a first for the Illawarra and maybe even a world first in terms of using community input to help us design and build the room,” he said.

The CareWays Community Sensory Room has been designed specifically to cater to the needs of the Illawarra community, with CareWays consulting with UOW’s Global Challenges Program to help develop the room.

Global Challenges pulled together a team of researchers from multidisciplinary backgrounds, including education, public health, engineering, linguistics and business to explore an evidence-based, best-practise approach to delivering an MSE for the local community.

Dr Roselyn Dixon, from UOW’s School of Education and chief investigator on the project, says a highlight of the research has been the synergy between the team from such varied disciplinary backgrounds to respond to local needs.

Sensory room collage 2The CareWays Community Sensory Room is in the Horsley Community Centre.


The research they undertook specifically looked at the benefits of developing a community-housed multi-sensory room in the Illawarra by engaging with carers and disability services to better understand how a space can be utilised and the type of materials and services needed to meet local requirements. MSEs are typically found in institutional settings such as hospitals, occupational therapy clinics, schools and aged-care facilities.

“It was inspiring to witness the collegiality, passion and commitment to this project at all levels, including engagement from the community. The result is a sensory room based on world’s best practise for our local area,” Dr Dixon said.

IMB Bank CEO Robert Ryan congratulated UOW and CareWays for the innovation and commitment in providing a community facility to assist children and adults living with disabilities or mental health issues.

“When CareWays applied to the IMB Bank Community Foundation for funding for this project in 2016, it was immediately obvious it would be of immense value to the Illawarra,” Mr Ryan said.

“I look forward to hearing how the multi-sensory room has impacted on the local community and the people who will use it” he said.