School creates calming nature spaces
Downsview Primary School won a £1,000 OVO Foundation Nature Prize with their original idea to create a nature trail and sensory garden on the school site. After some initial problems with delayed deliveries, staff and students have worked incredibly hard to get the spaces up and running and create opportunities for students to be outside.
The school is lucky to have large grounds, but until recently, these spaces were under-used. Over the past few years, there has been a big effort to maximise the outdoor space so students and the wider community can make the most out of it. Ms. Sanchez, the school’s Spanish teacher and Sustainability Lead, has been leading the change, working alongside the school’s business manager to find different funding opportunities.
As the grounds are large, the school is working to create different areas that provide different experiences for the students. They already have an outdoor classroom and playing fields, so wanted to create a separate, designated sensory garden where students can go to sit-in and experience nature.
The goal was to create a serene place where students could sit calmly and explore using all their senses. With the prize money, the school bought some benches with attached planters, different sensory plants and grasses, and a wooden teepee which will hold some nature books as well as binoculars for students to look at the birds. Wind-chimes and mobiles are also dotted around to complete the sensory space.
Now the garden is complete, different groups can start using and enjoying the space. Students from the SEND unit will take some of their lessons in the garden, and all students are free to use the space during their breaks for some quiet time surrounded by nature. Parents and carers will even benefit from the garden; staff will be promoting it as the new waiting area at pick-up time.
“The idea was also that it can be used by parents. So when they walk in and they collect the children, they can sit on these benches, spend their 15-20 minutes chatting to other parents and children and just be in that space. It’s especially important for parents that maybe don’t have access to gardens or green spaces.”
Ms Sanchez, Spanish teacher and Sustainability Lead
The nature trail is the school’s next area of focus. They are planning on connecting the school with the local community via a green nature trail, planted with native species to encourage wildlife and improve biodiversity. Students are also eager to create a school pond, meaning even greater biodiversity and even more outdoor learning opportunities.
As well as their focus on improving the school grounds, staff are looking at what each class can do to be more sustainable. This year, each class will conduct a self-assessment of what they do well, and what they can do even better so both teachers and students are involved in making the school a greener and more sustainable place.
For other schools looking to create their own sensory gardens, Ms Sanchez, Downsview’s Sustainability Lead, advises looking to the school community for help and expertise. Often, there will be a wide range of experiences, professions, and expertise to draw from, as was the case with parents at Downsview, whose help proved invaluable.
Employees from OVO Energy even came to help clear the ground and build the structures as part of their volunteer days at work. As well as the hard work of staff, looking outwards and finding help and funding from different sources has been essential to Downsview’s successful transformation of their school grounds.
Celebrating progress is equally important; once their sensory garden was finished, staff threw a big opening event with special speakers, signalling to both students and parents the importance of nature and its place within the school.
Schools can win the cash to implement a community nature project. Schools from disadvantaged areas with high pupil premium are particularly encouraged to apply.
Applications opening 30 Novmeber 2023.
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