When I moved from Grantown Primary to Achnasheen Primary, I had quite a shock. The place had some scary features including:
Broken information posts
Loops of wire on fences
Various concrete blocks with steel poles sticking out of them
Broken fence posts
A playground covered in stones and little knobbles of tarmac (it was weird!)
Rusty nails sticking out of the boundary fence at regular intervals
Rotten wooden cladding. Underneath it was fibreglass insulation that the older children could reach up and touch.
The school had been expected to close and had been given a last minute reprieve. It was also a very small school, so there was not a budget for maintaining the school grounds. Thus creative ways of tidying up and sorting this out was needed.
Firstly, with permission and funding from the education office, I was able to order a skip. All the dangerous items and junk lying around were removed.
Next, I had a stroke of luck. The New Labour Government had decided to make pre-school provision available for 3 and 4 year olds. Nurseries needed safe outdoor space and so within the year we had a new playground surface and boundary fence.
The weeds growing out of the old surface were removed
We got a gate put in the fence so that the footballs could be retrieved and we could go for walks out of the back. Because the site is so windy, the fence blew over within a week of it being put up. It had to be reinforced all way round.
Next I applied for a Millennium Pioneers Award for £3000. With this we were able to create a garden. The challenge here was to find plants that deer and sheep didn’t like. The secret? Most herbs! This is why I’m so fond of growing herbs. With the award also came 3 days of advice and visits from a mentor – a BTCV officer, called John Duffy. He was really helpful and introduced me to the concept of permaculture and (ahem) risk assessments. Most importantly he showed me techniques and ways of consulting the children and wider community and involving them in the process of developing the grounds.
We removed the dead and dying trees
And created a “daffodil path”. We planted bulbs along the wooden stepping stones
We discovered a hidden sunken sink and made it into a miniature wetland area
We didn’t throw out another old sink but used it for planting flowers
Even MJ, aged 4, helped make the vegetable garden. In the back ground you can see the polytunnel too
Eventually the hard work paid off and we started to see some results. The deer and sheep did try and eat these plants but really didn’t like the taste! We had a gate to make the area more secure so sheep could no longer wander into the grounds. One child grew the tallest sunflower in Highland. The prize was the rowan tree in the photo below and the daffodil bulbs we planted.
We also had a bird table and planters!
We participated in a Millennium arts project and a visiting artist came to the school and helped the children make 3 murals representing the past, present and future. These were attached to the fence.
I spent several weekends painting markings on the playground. The children liked the drawing shapes and hopscotch. Sadly you can’t see the dance steps. In Seattle, some of the bus stops have brass footprints that map out dance patterns. So I adapted this for the playground.
Finally, my line manager and clerk of works managed to find money to replace the rotten wood cladding.
This is before the whole building was painted. We were also provided with a door and new railing!
Sadly this is the only photo I have of the school completely painted. It was a warm cream colour
Perhaps the best bit of advice I can give over developing school grounds is not to be afraid of making mistakes. They are an essential part of the process. Learning not what to do experientially helps build the character of your grounds which will be eternally evolving. For example, I discovered that the marking paint I used was really slippery until it faded. We did have a compost bin and we experimented with a wormery which I have discussed in a previous post
In addition to the structural changes described, the school fund donated money towards playground equipment. This included a little play house, a worm tunnel, gym equipment, lots of magnifying glasses, bug boxes and other investigative resources. Best of all were the pairs of real stilts! Even I used those to get about the grounds!