Children help design new playhouse & shelter
Grove Community Project provides childcare for children aged between 2 and 12 in the Handsworth area of Bimingham. The Project is a registered charity and part of the work of St James Church, the Centre has a nursery and also provides before and after school clubs and holiday playschemes. They follow the Reggio Emilia Approach, an educational philosophy that originates in Italy and is based on a child-centred approach to learning. Children are encouraged to develop through creativity and by making their own choices. Cue the Playhouse Company!
Sarah Wood has been Project Manager at the Centre since its inception nearly 20 years ago. She has been keen to provide an environment where the children can exercise their imagination and creativity, consistent both with EYFS and the Reggio Emilia ethos. A chance conversation with a colleague introduced Sarah to the Playhouse Company website and an association which has now spanned a decade or so. She recalls, “I could see immediately that the spirit of what they produced was exactly what I was looking for myself; a child focussed approach and end products as different as the children themselves. Once we worked together on our first project it was also clear that our like minded aspirations also translated into reality when it came to my own projects! I can explain broadly what I am hoping to achieve and Richard Frost from the Playhouse Company comes back with something exactly as I had hoped, and sometimes more.”
Funding has naturally been an issue in progressing new areas of the Centre and this has been a major part of Sarah’s remit, applying for grants wherever possible, and where successful, opening the path to new play areas. The first project to come to fruition was an outdoor play area and the children were asked to consider what they might like. They produced drawings and a ‘wish list’ which was shared with the Playhouse Company. Richard used these as his reference and produced visuals of what he thought could work and, to the children’s delight, reflected their own ideas. The result was a playcastle with three interlinking turrets connected with bridges. There are windows, covered areas and seating, and outside a number of planters also supplied by the Playhouse Company. This area was so well received and as the children enjoyed it the Centre plotted a second requirement, a covered seating area, which was duly designed and installed by Richard and his team.
A further project was an outdoor classroom complete with sandpit and chalkboard and a fabric wall to protect again inclement weather. The ‘wall’ can be raised when the weather is nicer. The approach at the Centre is to encourage outdoor play whenever possible; if it is rainy all the children slip into wet suits and away they go!
Next was a beautiful sensory garden feature. This an area where the children can enjoy watching plants, flowers and vegetables growing. Again Sarah ‘planted’ the germ of an idea and Richard developed visuals and then a beautifully constructed path with stepping stones, wobbly bridge and pebbles, all within a natural, growing environment.
The most recent and perhaps grandest project has recently been completed, a loft area within the main Centre building which was a 1960’s church hall and not without character. The Centre team had felt the end of the building with a mix of cupboards and doors was not a good use of space and so the idea of a mezzanine floor was mooted. This was assumed to be a job for builders but after mentioning it in passing to Richard a new direction was agreed; stairs leading to a special loft area where children could enjoy new, special space and the open vantage of the hall could be retained. Storage space has been built in too, including floor to ceiling shelving and a cloakroom area and the result has been a spectacular addition to the Project whilst enhancing the existing building with its high ceiling and roof lights. Its a great place for children to read and enjoy art and each other’s company.”
Sarah concludes, “We are driven by a commitment to provide all our children with space to learn and explore in a beautiful, imaginative space. It is so important to me and the Project that we work with people who are not prescriptive, but have a willingness to listen and then use their experience to interpret non-technical descriptions into creative, visionary products which exceed expectations. It is rare to find this combination and chemistry but when you do it is so valuable. Our recent Ofsted was complimentary about our learning environment and our Inspector was so taken by the new Loft area she said ‘Wow – I wasn’t expecting all this!’”