Fantastic for Families Award 2021 nomination

Fantastic for Families Awards 2021: MK Gallery case study
Art and Us Sensory Boxes

MK Gallery are one of the brilliant organisations shortlisted for the Fantastic for Families Awards 2021, for their Art and Us Sensory Boxes.

Jemima Senior from MK Gallery tells us more about the project.

This case study discusses how MK Gallery adapted to the needs of our Art and Us families during the COVID-19 pandemic and continued delivering a programme of stimulating art experiences.

We are thrilled that our Art and Us Sensory Boxes have been shortlisted for two Fantastic for Families Awards!

What We’ve Learnt

Art and Us is an inclusive ‘whole-family’ programme embedded within MK Gallery’s Public Programming offer which provides bespoke and stimulating art activities for children aged 5+ with complex needs. The programme was developed in partnership with Hastings-based organisation, Project Art Works, in recognition of the unique needs of families with a child or children with complex needs, and the benefits of their participation in creative and artistic spaces.

Art and Us at MK Gallery – a YouTube video introduction to our programme 

Adapting to the pandemic with Art and Us Sensory Boxes:

During the COVID-19 lockdown and unfortunate closure of in-person sessions, the Art and Us team began devising a programme of ‘Sensory Boxes’ to be sent to family homes. Boxes were created bespoke to each family by Art and Us artists, who carefully devised activities to suit a family’s creative interests and access requirements. The boxes contained open ended sensory-based materials which aimed to ignite play for each family, allowing us to continue creatively supporting them while our doors were closed. Artists also created a ‘Digital Message’ to accompany each box, which acknowledged and valued a family’s preferred communication style. The virtual messages not only gave creative suggestions for how to use the materials, but also facilitated continued connection and familiarity between the artists and families.

Activities ranged from den building to solar-powered inventions, to papermaking, and even creating a family disco in the living room! Over February – July 2021, we delivered 79 sensory boxes to 18 of our Art and Us families, working with 12 associate artists. The boxes have successfully engaged participants ranging from 5-18 years who experience a variety of access requirements in relation to neurodiversity, disability, and sensory impairment, including children with profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD) and Autism. Parent and personal assistant/carer involvement were strongly embedded throughout.

“One of the boxes made us cry, it was so obvious how much the artist had thought about [our son] and who he is.”

– Parent/Carer

Learning that came out of this programme:

A key achievement of the Art and Us Sensory Box programme was its ability to consider and respond to the interests of families who could not access any other learning resources during lockdowns. It provided many families with artistic and creative experiences at a time when their engagement with the wider community was severely restricted.  This in turn supported both individual and collective family wellbeing, as well as providing some structure and continuity at a time of great change.   

“The twins are medically vulnerable which meant that we had to go into lockdown from the onset. During this time the twins became very isolated as they lost a lot of their support networks. They struggled with online learning/workshops which closed a lot of opportunities for them.” – Parent/Carer, August 2021 

“The boxes have been the next best thing to attending in person sessions, and each month ‘box day’ (when they have been delivered) has been one of very few highlights during lockdown.” – Parent/Carer, August 2021

We worked closely with the families throughout lockdown using our family access forms. These shared conversations allowed us to continue learning about our families’ evolving interests, enthusiasms, and challenges in isolation so that the Associate Artists could create boxes that truly met the needs of each family.

“One of the boxes made us cry, it was so obvious how much the artist had thought about [our son] and who he is.” – Parent/Carer, July 2021

“The boxes have been really considerate… the artist videos which accompany each box have enabled the boys to feel connected to known artists/new artists and encouraged the boys’ creative minds to flourish independently at home.” – Parent/Carer, August 2021

Three people, two of them wearing coveralls, are using the July sensory box to have an 'Outdoor Powder Paint Party': pouring colourful powder on one another.

The Art and Us Sensory Boxes were designed to encourage the children to lead alongside all family members. Each activity encouraged siblings, parents, and other family members of all ages to join in, and actively considered their interests when designing the activities. Feedback demonstrated how the boxes had encouraged moments of ‘family togetherness’ and an opportunity for all members to take part and feel included.  

“Both boys loved Georgia’s box, they used all the box ingredients to make us food while we pretended to go on a camping adventure!” – Parent/Carer, June 2021 

Many of our shielding families discussed experiencing heightened levels of anxiety surrounding their transition back to public spaces. They commented that the continued and familiar dialogue with the team during lockdown (including the use of social stories with staff/artist images), has supported their child’s understanding, and excitement to return to the Gallery.  

The June art box came yesterday- the boys loved it and are so excited to come the art gallery at some point to meet you all.” – Parent/Carer, June 2021 


The experience and family feedback has given our Public Programme team fresh insights into inclusive best practice when working with children with complex needs, particularly for those who may benefit from remote-working environments. We have endeavoured to continue funding the sensory box programme long term, giving families greater choice in how they access our activities and acknowledging a variety of participation preferences.  

“The boys are starting to re-engage with in person sessions now, but we know for a lot of families that this is not the case. Therefore, the continuation of the sensory boxes (even if not as regularly) would be a great addition to the Art and Us program, allowing a bit of joy to vulnerable children and their families at home.” – Parent/Carer, August 2021 

We believe working in this bespoke and considered way has had an overwhelmingly positive impact on our families during what has been an especially challenging year for them. The process also enabled us to connect to new families during lockdowns, many of whom we met in person last month for their very first Art and Us session! We have loved receiving images and videos from families enjoying the process and are looking forward to continuing this at-home experience which encourages them to act, communicate and express themselves in the ways they find most meaningful. 

Image credits:
July Sensory Box – Outdoor Powder Paint Party
March Sensory Box – Glow in the Dark Disco
May Sensory Box – Expressive Mark Making and Printing with Stamps

19 October 2021 


Jemima Senior Headshot

Jemima Senior is the Inclusion Coordinator at MK Gallery.

MK Gallery’s Family Programme provides regular activities supported by their Public Programme Team and Associate Artists.

Other resources that might interest you

19 October 2021