First Phase of £44 Million School Campus is Handed Over – A New Special Needs School for London

The Portakabin Group has handed over the first phase of a £44 million school campus for the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, which will be the UK’s largest free school campus.

Constructed using a Yorkon off-site solution, the new special educational needs (SEN) school for Riverside Bridge has doubled its capacity in time for the start of the 2016/17 academic year, providing much needed additional places at an earlier stage.

The SEN scheme is part of the 23,000sqm Riverside Campus – an innovative new three-school campus which will accommodate 2,645 children aged from 0 to 19. Designed by Surface to Air Architects, it will be operated by the multi-academy trust, Partnership Learning, and will integrate provision for nursery, primary, special needs, secondary, and sixth form pupils. The second and final phase will be handed over by Portakabin in late Spring 2017.

According to Anna Hope, Head of School at Riverside Bridge, “The new building already feels very familiar to our children and part of the design was to facilitate the transition as some special needs children are very sensitive to change. The wide corridors, larger classrooms and overall design have created a really calm environment for the children. They love the floor-to-ceiling windows which overlook the outside play area and allow lots of light into the building for a very welcoming feel.”

“We participated in weekly meetings with the construction team which were invaluable and allowed us input into the design. This attention to detail has helped to make this an outstanding building. This is still a live construction site but we are kept fully up-to-speed with how the wider project is progressing so we can maintain safety and reassure parents. The Portakabin team are so mindful of the children’s wellbeing. They worked around the clock to complete the floor above us as far as possible to avoid noise which could upset the children once we had moved in. And site deliveries have been restricted to avoid the times when our children arrive and leave the school.”

“Portakabin has really understood how to work with special educational needs children and has been absolutely brilliant. All the small details have made the whole construction experience fantastic for us.”

Jane Hargreaves, Strategic Director of Education at London Borough of Barking and Dagenham said, “Portakabin has been easy to work with, and the scheme has been on target to the advantage of our special needs students”.

The new purpose-designed facility has doubled the capacity of Riverside Bridge School to 64 children and will have space to further expand it to 160 places. Portakabin phased the construction programme to allow the SEN school to open on its new site ahead of the other buildings at Riverside Campus. On completion of the overall development, the SEN school will work very closely with the primary and secondary schools, creating an inclusive educational environment.

The use of a Yorkon off-site solution from the Portakabin Group for the curriculum areas of the campus has significantly reduced the programme time for faster completion. This has helped to address the demand for school places in the area as a result of new housing. Off-site construction allowed the structure to be manufactured in York at the same time as the major ground works were progressed on site and created a high quality, watertight structure for fitting out much earlier in the build programme.

Features of the new SEN school include:

  • Wider corridors to help children who have mobility or balance issues, giving them a sense of independence which improves their confidence
  • A large amount of storage space in the classrooms with lockable cupboards to allow as much clear space as possible and maintain a safe learning environment
  • Hard-wearing solid ceilings as items can be thrown into the air which would damage tiled ceilings
  • Hygienic, easy-to-clean flooring which is ideal for messy play and painting
  • A sensory room with specialist lighting
  • Hygiene rooms located on each floor and equipped with a hoist to assist children in wheelchairs
  • A specially-designed SEN playground with timber trail ways. The children also have access to a mini outdoor amphitheatre and raised plant beds
  • An external canopy for each classroom to provide a sheltered outdoor space for learning and play.

The Portakabin Group is the main contractor for the Riverside Campus project. The contract was procured and awarded by the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham via the Council’s Local Education Partnership, Thames Partnership for Learning. It is funded by the Department for Education.

The scheme is the seventh school building contract awarded to Portakabin by the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham and follows on from two earlier phases at a school near to the Riverside Campus.

For further information about Yorkon off-site building solutions from the Portakabin Group, call 0845 2000 123, email or visit