An exceptional Special Education Needs and/or Disabilities (SEND) School designed to accommodate both primary and secondary students.

Polden Bower SEND School

Location Bridgewater, Somerset
Client Somerset County Council


The site became available as part of the East Bridgwater masterplan, a housing led regeneration and expansion proposal spearheaded by the local council. As part of this it was agreed to provide a specialist SEND provision to consolidate the existing Elmwood and Penrose schools. It would provide a specialist inclusive environment offering additional, extended or enhanced education facilities to address educational needs.


AWW’s vision was to design a fully inclusive environment to accommodate both primary and secondary aged students with the potential for future nursery provision. The school was to provide specialist education for students with severe ambulatory disabilities, learning difficulties and behavioural needs.

The school also wanted to expand its facilities to the community consequently the large hall, pool and specialist therapy suite have been design to be utilised by the school and local community.

Design Intent

The design is intended to meet the complex needs of the students as well as providing a wider holistic, nurturing, environment that accommodates the spectrum of needs the school cohort is likely to require. Within the school an expansive therapy environment is provided to offer both sensory and ambulatory provision along with a large therapy pool with fully equipped sensory equipment. The use of colour was also integral, in collaboration with the school and therapy specialists we were able to develop a robust way finding strategy.

The site landscaping is designed to meet the needs of each age of learners creating specific external environments to interact with. The landscape includes a variety of play, outdoor activity, outdoor learning, therapy and sport provision.

Design Delivery

From the point of inception AWW developed the project in partnership with the school and client team to ensure that our design was compliant and met the relevant design guidance as well as the particular needs of the pupils, staff and visitors who would use the space. Thanks to this engagement process that was undertaken through every stage of the project a forensic attention to detail has ensured the developed school is an exemplar in its field.


The project promotes a fabric first approach; siting and orientation were carefully modelled to ensure the environments achieved best practice in limiting energy needs. Excellent airtightness and insulating properties designed into the building ensure that the energy needed to operate the building is very limited and in use energy supplemented by a vast array of solar panels that provide renewable energy for the building.

User Experience

Throughout the design process the school and stakeholder team were on board, participating in the development of the design initially from concept level then to a fully virtual 3D BIM environment. This has enabled the client and commissioning team to virtually interact with the development of the design throughout the process. And has also successfully been utilised to engage with the students - virtually walking them through their new school ahead of occupation and providing a vital soft-landing tool for their new environment.


The yearly change in cohorts demanded a highly flexible environment be developed to allow adaption of the spaces accordingly. The school is also designed to be robust to enable the environment to withstand the high impact levels that were anticipated. The construction strategy developed in response included a pre cast roof deck to enable the school to undertake hoist modification throughout without onerous and timely modification to the structure. This construction method has meant that the building functions extremely well acoustically, is robust and enables rapid changing of internal environments.


The site is situated directly adjacent to the M5 motorway this provided acute acoustic challenges in both the internal and external environments. Detailed acoustic modelling was undertaken to understand the impacts of noise barriers and how the external environments could be located around the school. The building fabric and ventilation strategy also needed to respond to the acoustic requirements which were achieved through a collaborative approach and ensuring that correct adjacencies between internal and external environments were achieved.

Aerial CGI

The foundation of the design for Polden Bower is the knowledge that attractive, accessible school environments create a space for its students to thrive.

Class Room

Each classroom can be adapted to the specific needs of the students and include transfer hoists so pupils can be moved from any position in the classroom without having to use a wheelchair or frame.

The project has been a pleasure to be involved in, with a fully collaborative stakeholder, commissioning client, design team and contractor enabling a complex project with very specific and acute needs to be designed and delivered to the upmost quality and detail."

Jamie Furse, Director

Hydrotherapy Pool

The pool is heated like a warm bath with black-out blinds and full sensory lighting.

Ground Floor Plan

Adopting a hub and spoke approach, the classrooms are arranged in wings on a north-south axis preventing south-facing classrooms and improved daylighting from the east and west.

Play and Sports Area

The outdoor teaching and learning environments are equally as important to the internal classrooms, many students will use sports and exercise to develop their education and life skills.

Sensory Lighting

The full immersion sensory studio is an exciting and stimulating suite for the pupils to enjoy.