Nature Classroom – Donington on Bain Primary School

Nestling in the beautiful Lincolnshire Wolds, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Donington On Bain is small village with a typical Victorian built primary school. However, when we were approached by headteacher Louise Anyan to design an outdoor classroom to compliment the existing outdoor provisions, it soon became clear that this is no typical primary school with its approach to outdoor learning!

“Education is about the environment you create and the experiences you provide. Outdoor learning engages all children, no matter what their ability and makes learning real and relevant. A key priority for the school is also pupil and staff well-being. Being outside throughout the seasons and in all weather conditions, builds resilience, positivity and connects people to their locality and environment. Since 2015, led by our amazing TA, Mrs Smith, we have created our own outdoor learning provision on the school site. This is a wonderful space but we wanted a focal point for all of this work” – Louise Anyan, Head teacher.

The school were keen to use a local company and so approached myself, due to my experience and expertise in building products in both the educational and glamping sectors. The build site in the corner of the school field, in amongst a small copse of trees, provided the inspiration to create a truely individual building. Our impact as humans on the natural environment and the sustainability of resources and materials are important lessons being taught in the school and so became key in the design and construction of the building.

From the ground up the philosophy of the design became one of the efficient use of natural resources of a sustainable nature with an eye to the longevity of the building but also to provide an attractive addition to the school grounds which would sit comfortably in its environment.

Minimal ground disturbance was important in the construction process to minimise the damage to tree root systems. Low impact foundations formed the base of the building with a charred and oiled UK grown Larch timber ring beam installed to support the walls. The walls are clad in waney edged Larch sourced and milled within 25 miles of the build site. Larch is a durable timber high in naturally occuring tannins giving it a high resistance to decay without the need for chemical treatments. The choice of the final roof covering was equally important with Cedar shingles being chosen. Although imported the environmental credentials of Cedar shingles deemed them be to an excellent choice for this building. They are renewable from sustainable certified sources and are 100% reusable, recyclable, biodegradable. A simple play-bark surface to the interior and exterior is a by product of the UK timber industry, has a low environmental impact, is sustainable, biodegradable and can be easily replenished.

“The outdoor classroom forms part of our school ethos and determination to place outdoor education at the heart of everything we do….and has provided us with a base from which this learning can take place. The outdoor classroom is not there for the children to be taught in, but it is an addition to what we already have. The children are taught how to care for their environment and also how to use its resources in a safe and sustainable way. The outdoor classroom has helped to bring all of this together and places outdoor learning at the heart of everything we do. “– Louise Anyan, Head teacher.

The building will mellow with age, the timber exterior surfaces silvering over time to blend in with its environment and provide many years of focused outdoor learning and fun!