The country’s first sensory bus has hit the roads in Nottinghamshire to help children with special education needs.

Video: Interior of the bus explained by the founder, Melanie Wilson

Melanie and Mark Wilson were inspired to set up the sensory bus by their son Riley who has autism. They wanted to create a space for him to relax and enjoy as they saw the lack of support mainstream schools and other places had for SEN children.

The brightly decorated shuttle bus is fitted with LED lights that can be changed to any colour, speakers that can play a range of sounds or music, interactive walls and optical fibres as well as a light changing ball pit, mirrors and a vibrating soft chair.


Riley, who is seven, is non verbal and needs special educational provision compared to other children his age. He benefits from playing in the bus and watching the lights change and dance about.

As well as providing a place for SEN children, the moving bus also allows SEN families to come together to avoid isolation from the wider community.

The Riley Foundation is a not-for-profit charitable organisation offering the general public, schools and other organisations access to state-of-the-art sensory equipment in the form of pop-up sensory rooms or access to the Sensory Bus.

Schools at both primary and secondary levels do not have access to the correct equipment which stimulates children’s senses, helping them to improve the way they learn and interact with the world.

What does SEN mean?

Special Education Needs (SEN) is a legal term to define the needs of a child who has a difficulty or disability which makes learning harder for them than for other children their age. They require special education provision and this can be different for each child.

  • Around 1 in 5 children have a Special Education Need at some point in their school life, and some will have SEN for the duration of their time at school.
  • People in hospitals, care homes and even individual families can benefit from the services the bus provides.
  • Funding has been cut in mainstream schools meaning equipment like this is not always easily available.

Gill Richards, who is the Emeritus Professor of Special Education, Equity and Inclusion at Nottingham Trent University, sees the benefits the bus brings.

Video: Gill Richards

The National Lottery donated £10,000 towards the bus however the whole project cost £47,500 from the family’s own money and donations from the community.

Two more busses are going to be donated by NCT in six weeks time and the couple aim to have them up and running with different equipment inside by June.

Children can enjoy the bus along with their SEN friends which promotes inclusion instead of removing these children from everyday environments.


We decided to create a giant sensory room on wheels […] to reach a lot more people.
Melanie Wilson – Project founder


For more information about The Riley Foundation and to stay up to date with where they travel, you can visit their Facebook page.

If you have any questions concerning autism, the National Autistic Society website is there to help.