Project: School prayer garden
Anne Keenan MSGD designed a ‘Prayer Pathway’ for St Peter’s Catholic school in Winchester
I was initially commissioned to create a ‘prayer space’, used in Christian schools to encourage children to reflect on their lives. After consulting with governors, teachers, children, parents, caretakers and dinner ladies, the idea evolved into a ‘prayer pathway’ – a place for contemplation but also informal discussion and wider curriculum use.
I was free to choose the space within the school grounds, so I chose an unloved and underused area next to the central playground. From past experience, I’ve found that new school gardens are best placed in a prominent position, or they don’t get used.
The children had indicated that they would like to see rivers, bridges, statues and flowers in the garden! The idea of a river was ideal as the site is linear, and has a change of level, so the river (blue resin bound play surfacing) could ‘flow’ down it. Posts and boulders now give a clear delineation between the playground (which has now become a ‘quiet’ playground, with no running or shouting) and there is a sense of transition via two ‘bridges’ of concrete decking sleepers.
The octagonal seating area (the ‘river source’) has 18 seats for small group learning. The blocks are plastic and are usually used in shop displays. As they were hollow and light, we filled them with damp sand. The seats are backed by cedar tablets, decorated with symbolic numbers and colours.
The area is surrounded by ‘bible beds’, home to a palm, olive, cistus, rosemary and bay – all mentioned in the Bible. The children can also grow wheat in a sunken pot. There are lots of things for the children to explore and look at, providing lots of opportunity for discussion and education. These include a fishing boat tableau behind fishing net ‘fences’, ‘creation posts’ for counting and measuring, and ‘gospel posts’ that encourage order, division and fractions. Fish on the walls signify species found in the Sea of Galilee. There is also an ‘angel gate’, ‘well’, ‘labyrinth’ and ‘mystery stepping stones’.
As the budget was tight, I knew that commissioning a sculpture was out of the question. Inspired by Indian totems, which use symbols to tell a story, I came up with the idea of a St Peter totem. The whole school was involved in its production, working with a mosaic artist. It’s made using a large terracotta drainage pipe.
The school is delighted with the garden, and it is well used. There’s so much potential for the children’s education – if it wasn’t in a church school, it would still be of great value.