An ‘inside- out’ environment designed to inspire our children and nurture in them a wish to learn from and care for their world and its precious future.
This outdoor space is phase 2 of an extensive school refurbishment. It follows phase 1, an earlier project known as ‘A Pathway to Learning’. The main feature of this first project was to introduce the visitor to Leven Valley C. E. Primary School via a woodland path, through a sheep fold ( a gathering space) following fence, gates and stile to be welcomed at the entrance by a carved wooden reception desk echoing smooth water worn rocks.
Hidden Green Valley ( phase 2) has created an outdoor learning space set within the central Quad, the architectural heart of the school. A living green roof frames the space with a highly bio- diverse planting scheme. It has an amazing visual impact with mossy tree stumps, sunflowers, gorse, bilberry, ox eye daisy and thyme. Butterflies, birds and bees love it too.
A crooked bridge, copper lamp post and old stone water trough, stepping stones, sand and board walk, water spouts, rusty chain, tipi tent and earth den all play their part in a garden space that is rich in extended play and storytelling potential. A twisted tree of paper thin bark provides the central upright.
Staff and children love it; a little hidden gem.
Head teacher, Ian Nicol had already established his school as an eco school for recycling; gaining a gold award and this project gave him the opportunity to take this aspect of school a step further. By understanding and harnessing the principles of a green, sustainable development of our existing building we have created a living model environment and also demonstrated how our educational buildings themselves can play a vital part in getting the sustainability message across.
From the initial concept and successful funding bid the project took an organic form, developing a common language between Artist/ Designer, Builder and Educationalist. A difficult and challenging path for all.
Work began during Autumn/ Winter 2009 whilst Cumbria’s great floods raged past, followed by the highest snow falls for a decade. Roads were closed, bridges knocked out, impacting on communities county wide. Are these Global changes that we will have to come to accept, or a freak once in a lifetime occurance? During this difficult time builders, teachers, children and parents looked on, asking those questions.
Bit by bit, Hidden Green Valley emerged in the late Spring of 2010, with fresh planting of a new living roof over the school and a new approach! A wet Summer has established the plants beyond expectations with almost 100% cover rate. Now, with snow on the distant hills and iced over ponds, the plants have retreated back into their roots to await another Springtime.
Leven Valley C of E school was built in 1929/30 as a local Secondary school, later to become a Primary when small primaries were amalgamated. The building is of a timber frame construction on slate foundations, slate roof and an outside mesh render finish. Internally the timber frame is clad with painted tongue and groove panelling, creating a pleasing, timeless interior. Built around a central circulation space, once open to the elements but closed in in the 1960’s/ 70’s., little has been invested into the building since then. The new works allowed the school to upgrade this circulation area, embracing a modern, green building approach.
A new walkway roof was installed over the top of the existing felted timber roof. This enabled the school to still function whilst the work was being carried out. Thermafleece insulation packed the roof void with an additional 60mm of glass tissue coated polyurethane board above the 25mm thick spruce roof deck. A single ply membrane, EPDM Rubber by Hertalan formed the waterproof layer. It was made in 5 large pieces in the factory and welded together on site. A Hertalan moisture mat, drainage layer, geo textile build up with 100mm of substrate then supported a diverse planting scheme. Local slate of varying sizes (40mm- 100mm) mulch was used around the edges. The kerb was capped with Western Red Cedar.
Internally the stud walls of the main frame had to be beefed up to take the extra loadings and all the structural posts of the window wall had to be replaced with a more substantial head beam. All the windows looking into the Quad were replaced. Aluminium / timber composite windows with high tech double glazed units have made the walkways warm and cosy.
Extensions into the Quad at opposite internal corners have created useful outdoor resources for storage and gatherings. Internally this gathering area creates a welcoming and lofty reception hall. The new paint colours throughout the interior section of the job have given the school a light, contemporary feel.
All materials used throughout the project have been chosen for their green credentials and have been sourced locally where possible. Rubber pond liners, lambs wool insulation, cedar clad, clay paint, stone and iron, birch ply, local larch and peeled oak coppice.
High quality materials and attention to detail have transformed the school into a modern, inspirational centre for learning.
Duncan Copley - landscape and gradener designer, Cumbria