In the middle of June, during a period when we were being inundated with amazingly creative entries for the Young Designer competition, we were sent a presentation that completely stopped us in our tracks. St Ives school, one of the highest achieving schools in Cornwall with over 700 children, had seen an advert for the Young Designers competition and thought it would be the perfect opportunity to revamp Mr Fox's art room.
While the learners of St Ives were already producing some amazing artwork, they had identified that their art department didn't reflect the creativity or passion of their output - with the building being 75 years old and parts of it not being redecorated for 20 years! So they set out on a mission to create the best possible space for art - one that would turn a cluttered, stuffy space into an environment where people not only loved to work in but gave them the opportunity to express their creativity every day.
The team consisted of Harri, Kieran, Danielle, Harry and Hannah, alongside their teacher Mrs Rashidi. Even before we met them, it was clear that the team had put an amazing amount of time and effort into the project, seeing it as a way for them to make a positive contribution to the school.
While this effort clearly paid off, there were three very specific reasons why this team helped their school to win the competition.
Firstly, a collaborative approach. At every available opportunity, the St Ives team wanted to not only engage but include the thoughts and suggestions of the whole school. After all, the benefit of the transformation would impact everyone who used the space. Firstly, a survey to 100 other members of the school - 'what specific area needs to change', 'what difference would it make', 'what would the most cost effective options be' etc.
Through this process, they encouraged teachers and learners to think critically not just about how they would like it to look, but how it could be delivered within the constraints of elements such as budget. After taking the initial ideas, working them up during lesson time and after school, the team presented a design solution to the school that not only met the teaching and learning needs of the room, but clearly showcased how the suggestions of those who had been surveyed had been included. Everyone felt they had a part.
Secondly, creativity. Through the competition, we saw some amazingly creative design suggestions, from aquarium tables to rotating planets on the ceiling. However, the suggestions from the team at St Ives not only took ideas that were fun and creative, but served a very specific practical need. Firstly, Harry had done hours of research into the different flooring material, weighing up cost vs durability to establish which best matched their needs and budget. However, one suggestion stood out in particular for its practical genius.
Mr Fox's art room had a lot of storage that wasn't necessarily being used to best effect. Alongside this, paint bottles were left around the room, with the odd one tipping over and spilling paint everywhere. The team had a better way of doing it. Rather than store paint in pots that can be knocked over, why not use the cupboards to keep them tidy. However, instead of just keeping the bottles up above, they wanted to use this opportunity to create a fun feature for the room, so devised a dispensing system for the paint, similar to optics that are used in a bar. This way, the paint was stored away and safe from being knocked over - functional objective achieved - and the cupboards became a colourful asset to the room. Genius.
Finally, alongside the two attributes above, consistently throughout their submission, the team never wavered on their focus to impact the school and its community through the change. This was affirmed when we went to visit in October, where Kieran told us that he believed that the transformation would encourage people to take art because it had become a fun and conducive environment to work in. As an experience, it had galvanised the school together behind an amazing yet deliverable idea, all thanks to the efforts of the team.
We are currently working alongside school to implement the design and look forward to working closely with St Ives to observe the impact that it has over the coming years.