Parent power fires school’s ‘Imaginarium’

Ashton School boys

Part of the colourful outdoor play area

PARENT power has meant that a village school’s new £13,000 outdoor learning space has cost only half what it would have without their help.

Six months of planning, fund-raising, painting and building has seen the completion of an “Imaginarium” at Ashton-under-Hill First School.

The project has cost about £13,000 in all and received a major boost from a Big Lottery Grant of £10,000. But as parent Claire Kirke said: “My best guess is that it would have cost us twice as much without the parents volunteering their time and materials.”

The “Imaginarium’ is the brainchild of parent Cheryl Firkins, a landscape architect, who said: “The school had a vision to create a multi-station nature area based around an outdoor classroom and invited parents to a brainstorming session.

Ashton School boat

Children playing in the school boat

“I was very pleased to be able to bring my professional design and horticultural expertise to such an exciting project that so many people will ultimately enjoy and benefit from.

“A plan was drawn up featuring new spaces inspired by mini beasts, plants and the natural environment all set along a discovery trail leading from the school buildings into the quiet garden and out onto the playing field, ending at the outdoor classroom.”

Many parents put themselves forward to help with the project to ensure it was created on time and to a tight budget.

Mrs Kirke, whose son is in year two at the school, said: “We are very lucky to have a talented and hard-working group of parents who were willing to give up many weekends to work on the Imaginarium.

“In terms of how much has been saved by ‘parent power’, it is difficult to say but we had a landscape architect, builders, a joiner, tree surgeons, artists, an agriculturist, as well as parents who are ‘unskilled’ but enthusiastic who all gave copious amounts of time for free. Parents also lent us machines like diggers, forklifts and donated materials that all saved time and money.”

The Imaginarium also includes a ‘beach area’, a fort, ‘discovery zones’ and a bug hotel which has been created by the children and many insects have already taken up residence.

An outdoor classroom is the focal point of the Imaginarium, providing a learning environment that can be used throughout the warmer months.

Mrs Kirke added: “The Imaginarium will continue to evolve over time. We have ordered outdoor musical instruments and are eagerly awaiting their arrival – and we will add to it to meet the needs of the children.”

The school has been keen to act in an eco-friendly way and, where possible, reclaimed materials have been used with parents and friends of the school donating slabs, stone and bricks that have been put to good use.

Head teacher Bryony Baynes said: “The Imaginarium has opened up many new learning opportunities for the children by providing a stimulating and exciting environment for them to play, interact and enjoy the great outdoors.

“At the school, we encourage the children to enjoy nature through frequent visits to Forest School and now they can continue that learning in the playground.”

The children have recently raised £1,300 through a sponsored walk. This money is going to be used with Jon the Potter to help the children create fantastical creatures to inhabit the area around the Imaginarium.

Ashton School canopy

The school’s new fort

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