Berni's on a space odyssey

7th March 2003 at 00:00
With no safe place to store their books and equipment, many pupils are forced to carry heavy school bags around all day. This could change if one mother's idea takes off

Last September, Berni Albrighton waved her excited son off to his first day in Big School. It suddenly struck her that the 11-year-old was weighed down with a heavy school bag, a PE kit and a saxophone. As is typical in most schools, there is not enough locker space for every child so her son has to lug heavy bags around all day long.

"I felt so sorry for him being so loaded down," says Ms Albrighton, who was shocked to find that her child's school had nowhere, not even a clothes hook, where things could be left. "He looked like a tortoise carrying everything on his back. The thought of him weighed down with books, kit and other stuff stayed with me all day," she says. Then she had a flash of inspiration: "If the schools can't provide enough lockers, then maybe I can do it for them." Within a month of the new term, she had set up her company, called My Own Space, with the simple but bright idea of hiring out lockers to the children. "I thought of a new way of installing them without any financial obligation on the school," she says.

Her plan is to buy lockers and offer them to parents at a monthly rent of pound;5. This would include the locker, a spare key, cleaning and maintenance. She emphasises that all the administration involved in the scheme would be done by My Own Space (which at the moment is just her).

"We offer to do all the booking, correspondence with parents, setting up direct debits to pay the monthly rental - the school doesn't have to pay a penny or spend any time in administration," she says. There is, though, the business of choosing a site in school and she is finding this a much slower process than she thought. She accepts that constraints of space mean that there will not be enough lockers for each child. "They will be offered on a first-come-first-served basis," she says.

The prospect of new lockers may be very good news for Michael White, a Year 10 pupil at Chesterton Community College in Cambridge. "There are 30 in our class and only 12 lockers , so I have to carry my bag around all day. The lockers we do have are really beaten up and full of graffiti - and they are far too small,"he says.

On a typical day, his school bag is stuffed to the brim with at least six textbooks, homework books, PE and rugby kit (much heavier brought home when wet), lunch box, pens and pencils. His bag (minus the rugby kit) weighed in at a hefty 6kg.

Michael's father, David White, says: "I am really worried about the physical damage that may occur from carrying these heavy loads around all day."

In practice, Michael - like the other Chesterton pupils - often leaves his sports kit in the classroom. "People's boots often get stolen but we have nowhere safe to put our stuff," he says.

These are very early days for My Own Space and so far Berni Albrighton awaits her first firm order. "The Education Show will be a great opportunity to talk to people about my lockers idea, get some feedback on the service and the rental fee. As adults we all value our own space and we take it for granted that we will have somewhere secure at work to put our belongings. Why do we deny this to children?" she asks.

But will her idea be taken up? We shall have to watch this space.

Stand U40

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