What is a multi-sensory environment

A toddler sits amongst shiny wire or pipe and explores his environmentA multi-sensory environment allows people of all ages and abilities to attend an alternative recreational activity to meet their needs. Exploration of sensory equipment is at a level and pace directed by the participant. 

Interactive equipment allows participants to feel vibrations, touch different textures, change lighting effects and experience different smells. 

A multi-sensory environment is a relaxing space, which helps reduce stress levels and develop social skills. Interactive equipment provides sensory stimulation, improves development and promotes social interaction.

Benefits of a multi-sensory environment

  • promotes intellectual activity including memory recall
  • encourages relaxation
  • interactive equipment develops understanding of  cause and effect
  • helps to develop language – encourages participants to make choices or indicate their preference
  • promotes social skills and helps lower stress levels
  • last of all, it's a fun environment.

Who can benefit from a multi-sensory environment

  • children and adults who have significant needs including cerebral palsy, intellectual disability, autism and multiple disabilities 
  • people with brain injuries
  • people suffering from dementia and other related disorders
  • children and adults who suffer from anxiety and mental health issues including stress.


The original concept for multi-sensory rooms began in the Netherlands in the late 1970s and grew in popularity in both the UK and Europe. The types and functions of sensory rooms have changed and morphed over the years and the Southern Centre is an extremely dynamic version of the early rooms. This innovation and creativity has seen the Southern Centre recognised on the international stage, winning the World Leisure Award for Innovation and Excellence.

The first Southern Centre was located at QEII Recreation and Sport Centre until the February 2011 earthquake. It was then relocated to its current location at Pioneer Recreation and Sport Centre.

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