At Baillieu Architects we are passionate about sustainability and how our projects can give back to and benefit our local community. We are excited about our recent work at Stepping Stones School, in Hindhead, Surrey.
Stepping Stones School was set up by Larry Sullivan and Sandy Seagrove, whose daughter has hemiplegia. They set up the school when they realised that their daughter was not thriving in mainstream education. They wanted to create a place where children like their daughter could learn, in a safe, positive, environment that specifically provided for their social, physical and educational needs. Stepping Stones offers a unique setting for those children who find the hectic pace of a mainstream school too challenging and yet would find the curriculum and peer group offered by a fully fledged special school too narrow or too limiting.
Baillieu Architects approached Stepping Stones, about a year ago to offer our architectural and design services on a pro-bono basis. They told us that they were keen to redevelop the playground on the site which occupies the lower school at their Tower Road site in Hindhead, Surrey. Their vision was to create a haven of sensory play and exploration where the children could enjoy spending time, be physically active, interact with their natural surroundings and play in a wide variety of means. An important factor was that the children could also take part in the project and take ownership for the re-creation of their playground.
As the brief involved the participation of the children we contacted Creative Willow, a husband and wife team whose expertise lies in creating living willow play structures in the form of a workshop. Stepping Stones opted to build a living willow play tunnel at their site as part of the redesign. The project took the form of a 2-day workshop led by Ganesh and Elaine of Creative Willow, who are passionate environmentalists and teachers. The children, teachers and the team from Baillieu Architects all pitched in to help dig a willow wall and weave the willow tunnel. We also learnt how to create living willow pencils and fashioned star and fish shapes out of willow to decorate the playground environment.
In addition to the willow play tunnel, we have planned a sensory world of possibility and exploration for the play area. There will be a water wall for water play which the children will design themselves and a “grow your own” garden area. Moreover, the existing roundhouse will be redeveloped into a music pavilion with pentatonic musical instruments such a chimes, tubular bells and drums to provide the children with an opportunity for musical freedom and expression. The Children will also continue to have the ongoing responsibility of maintaining and weaving new growth into the willow tunnel as it matures.
Ultimately once the redesign has been completed we hope to have created a playground where the students at Stepping Stones will feel comfortable to explore, play and most importantly continue to be themselves.