Woodlands Primary School

Woodlands Primary School

When working on environmental education projects in schools we like to get the pupils involved at every stage, in any way we can. Our amphitheatre project at Woodlands Primary School in Telford was a great example of this, as we were encouraged by the teachers to include the children in the initial design stages right through to digging the last plants into the structure itself.

The grass bank in the school playground was the site chosen for development, upon which a replica of the famous local Ironbridge already stood. The school asked for our advice on installing proper seating into the bank to complement the structure and although we had an amphitheatre in mind, we saw a great opportunity to ask the pupils for their input too.

The grass bank before our project began.

The first workshops with the children involved designing and planning some of the potential improvements we could make to their playground. Unsurprisingly suggestions began with castles and swimming pools but when we asked them to think carefully about limitations such as time, money, space and materials they began proposing some very useful and focussed ideas for seating, including amphitheatres and stages.

We asked the pupils to paint their faces on to balloons so we could use them as counters
 to work out how many children would be able to sit on the amphitheatre once it was built.

We honed these ideas with the head teacher Mr Demmerling and opted for amphitheatre style seating up the bank, with a large stage in front of it to allow for outdoor performances and assemblies to be held comfortably in the playground. The Ironbridge would arch over the stage and have planters built at either side of it, allowing climbing plants to wind their way up it and soften the visual impact of the large amounts of wood and metal. The amphitheatre seats would also be half planted with low, dense growing herbs such as Creeping Thyme and Lawn Chamomile to form a comfortable and aromatic place to sit for the children.

Building the amphitheatre and filling the seats with topsoil over the course of two weeks was a lot of fun and a good test of our joinery skills and waterproofs in the wet weather. Although the children were unable to participate in the construction part of the project, they cheered us on at every break time and asked plenty of questions too. Stepping back across the playground from the finished amphitheatre, we were very happy with how impressive it looked as a structure and how well it suited its surroundings. 

The amphitheatre construction process.

Having left the amphitheatre to settle in to its new surroundings, we returned a few months later in April to resume our workshops with the pupils. We began by sowing wildflower seeds with them in the school’s unusually shaped greenhouse, teaching them about the importance of native flowers for insects, bees and butterflies and asking them to care for and water the flowers through the summer. We also filled the stage side planters with herbs and started the Clematis’s on their mission to climb up and around the Ironbridge arch.  

Pupils planting wildflowers in the school's geodesic greenhouse.

Although the children had helped us as much as they could, we still had a lot of work to do to finish our playground transformation. Once the amphitheatre wood was completely dry we applied anti-slip tape to the stage area, making the stage safe to play on even during wet weather. We also built and installed solid Oak benches and Alder activity frames around the perimeter of the playground which offer additional seating and features to the playground as well as acting as a barrier to deter children from sliding around on the bank when it is muddy. 

Our finished amphitheatre, benches and activity frames.

This concluded our project and has provided the school with a multi-purpose stage and seating area that can be used for anything from public outdoor events to playing on at break time.