Building of dreams drawn into reality

30th April 2010 at 01:00
Pupils from three Angus Glens primaries joined artists to design features for their new school

When primary pupils in Angus came up with ideas for their dream school, their imaginations ran riot. They drew schools made of chocolate and school buses that could fly.

They are working on an innovative pilot project with three artists, developing ideas to put their own stamp on their newly-built school when they move in this August. For their research, they have taken photographs, made films, held workshops and made a site visit.

The pupils are from three small rural schools in the Angus Glens and will start together at the new building on a new site. Glenisla, Kilry and Lintrathen schools will merge to become Isla School, at Peel Farm, near Lintrathen.

Driving up winding country roads to the school, you pass some amazing scenery. A red squirrel shoots across the road, a shepherdess with a crook surveys newborn lambs.

It's no wonder the artists who have come to work with the pupils are charmed by the location and homely atmosphere in their country schools. Their aim is to help the children take some of the old magic with them to the new school and develop a design manifesto with ideas for the future.

"This is not about a conventional notion of a public art project or a project in a school where we'll come and we'll do a mural with everyone and it will go on a wall," says designer Sam Booth. "If we come in with a preconception of what we should do, we have failed before we have started. It's very much about trying to get them to take the lead in what we do and at the same time using our experience to make that into something realistic and workable without diluting it.

"At the end, we want to leave a legacy of ideas of things that could happen in six months, a year or five years, some of which might be completely blue sky, some of which might be very simple things we could do in one tiny space in the school."

Along with artist Louise Ritchie and designer Lucy Kendra, Mr Booth has been leading the children in work that explores ideas about their dream school and how they'll use space for learning and play inside and outside.

The venture is called Project Blueprint, a partnership between Angus Council and Ginkgo Projects, a school design consultancy. It is funded by the Scottish Arts Council's public art fund and Angus Council.

"I think it's recognised that children have got a lot to contribute to the creative design and development process," says Pauline Meikleham, arts and culture support officer with Angus Council. "There's a need to ensure a sense of ownership over a new school. Moving to a new school is a really big thing. It can feel quite alien, so there has been a lot of work done to try and make that process familiar to involve the children in all kinds of ways."

The project is seen as an ideal vehicle for co-operative learning and Curriculum for Excellence, providing creative learning opportunities as pupils take part in site visits and find out more about how schools are designed and built. And it is hoped this pilot will inform future school developments.

Ms Meikleham says: "The artists have engaged with the children, they have done a whole piece of work under the heading of Space Explorers, which is the first stage of engaging children in thinking about who they are, what's special about their community and what the values and qualities are that they want to bring with them to their new school."

Today, the pupils are gathered in Glenisla Hall, which is festooned with bunting, reminding them of the story of the project so far and explaining some of the challenges and constraints of the creative design process in a series of cartoons.

One project will be developed now; others will be for further down the line. The children are buzzing with ideas.

"Maybe some new swings in the new school," says Jake Eadie, 9, from Glenisla School, which has a roll of 12 children.

Lauren Downie, 7, is one of nine children at Lintrathen School. "I want lockers - they're cool," she says.

Her friend Hannah Cooper, 8, wants "a pink locker like in High School Musical".

It's a time of mixed feelings for Janet Coyle, now headteacher of the three merging schools, who will be retiring this summer before the move. She's been head at Glenisla for 17 years and took over Lintrathen six years ago and Kilry a year later.

"I think this is a great idea - what we are going to have as an end product we're not sure, because it's always evolving," she says. "Hopefully, something lasting will come out of this that will be in the school grounds or even in the building, if that's what they choose to do.

"It will be very much the children's thing, because they have come up with the ideas. They've said what they wanted and the artists have guided them through that process."

Amy Walker, 11, is one of 19 pupils from Kilry School. She won't be going to the new school either as she will be going to secondary. But she knows what makes her school special: "It's the people at it," she says.

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