Our primary school has lovely outdoor space, but in 2019 we decided that our ageing playground was in need of a major overhaul. The wooden castle needed replacing because it was no longer safe, and our tyres and small wooden play structures were wearing out. We had ambitious plans to create a wide variety of outdoor learning and play spaces, with areas for exploration and imaginative activities, but these had to be put on hold through 2020.
As a school, part of our vision is to equip our children to become caring, responsible global citizens, and we felt that including their voices in the playground design would enable them to make a positive difference to the community. So in early 2021, when Bigwoodplay (who have designed and built play equipment at primary schools across Bath and Wiltshire) said they could build whatever the children could imagine, we commissioned them for our new castle project.
To support the children in designing their own spaces, one of our parents, Dr Kate Langham, ran workshops with groups of six to eight pupils. She asked the children to model their ideas using cake and sweets. They came up with some really creative ideas, such as using strawberry laces as zip wire, while managing not to eat the sweets! We were able to use the workshops as an incentive and reward for children who had followed our school values at playtime. The cake models were translated into scaled drawings that allowed the children to see their ideas as design proposals.
The overall playground project is so big that we are completing it in three stages: the first being the installation of the exciting castle structure that the children helped to design. For this, we needed to raise at least £10,000. To involve our children, we set up a ‘Grow a Pound’ challenge, giving each pupil a pound and asking them to use it to create their own fundraising initiative.
More than 100 children participated and we used the InvestMyCommunity (IMC) platform to enable families to set up electronic campaigns. We also created a ‘Grow a Pound’ hall of fame to celebrate all of the wonderful and creative ideas the children came up with, from sponsored cycles to paddle boarding, walking and running, car washes, litter picking (left), cake/biscuit/lolly selling, gardening, dog treat selling and ‘guess the name of the purple unicorn’ competitions!
The challenge raised £3,500 online through IMC, plus £2,500 through cash donations. We also used IMC to crowdfund more generally, raising an additional £4,000 through online donations. Alongside further donations from the local community, including £5,000 from the Village Shop and Café, and £2,000 from Bathford Parish Council, we exceeded our target in time for summer, and were able to put funds towards phase two (replacing decking and adding a roof to make an outdoor classroom).
The donation from the Village Shop and Café (aka Bathford Enterprise for All (BEFA) Ltd – a non-profit making cooperative owned and run by members) was to support young people locally. BEFA runs the shop with two staff and about 50 volunteers for the community, and also supports social and charitable projects. Many of our children and parents are customers, and may even be volunteers or members. BEFA’s donation recognises the young volunteers who stepped forward during the pandemic, and is also an investment in future generations.
Our wonderful new castle was erected during the summer holidays and the children have loved playing on it (above) ever since. We’ve now nearly completed phase two, and have begun work on phase three – the creation of bog and rain gardens (above right). Several talented parents have provided their expertise, including engineering and architectural skills for free but, most of all, this project has been a triumph for our children.