‘Parents and staff hop on and off the library bus before and after school’
When I became headteacher, I inherited an amazing library bus. But it had fallen by the wayside, so we set about breathing new life into it. The hard work had been done – purchase, planning permission, health and safety compliance and groundworks. Now it needed some TLC.
Our site supervisor, Gary, is an ex-builder and is absolutely brilliant. We worked out how we wanted the bus to look and Gary made it happen. We formed writing groups with the children to send letters to companies asking for discounts on materials we needed and they measured up for carpet, too. They really felt part of the process.
We painted plants and foliage over the exterior and continued the woodland theme inside. There’s a ‘tree’ with ‘branches’ winding its way up the stairs and Gary painstakingly added fake leaves with matchsticks.
Renovations cost around £5,000, which mainly came from our Christmas and summer fairs – around £2,000 each – plus a sponsored pedal push around the playground and a sponsored egg roll at Easter. One of our teaching assistants put in a lot of work, too, including designing the artwork inside. Our office team works closely with the PTA organising events and fundraising activities.
We’re all very proud of the bus. The children look after it, so there’s not a lot of ongoing maintenance apart from repainting every few years, replenishing the books and heating it in winter. Before Covid, parents and staff could hop on before and after school, to have a quiet space to read with children – we hope to reintroduce that soon. We also use it for one-on-one phonics practise.
- Rachel Otter, headteacher, Pinewood Primary School and Foundation Unit, Nottinghamshire (194 pupils)
‘We fitted the plane out with the help of one of the teachers’
When I spotted a helicopter for sale on eBay, my headteacher agreed it would make an interesting and creative learning space which the kids would really enjoy.
The sale fell through but the idea stuck, and one day I saw an old beat-up shell of a plane at Southend Airport where I was having a flying lesson. We decided this project could work for us and bought it for £4,000 including delivery. Once planes reach a certain age, their parts often get sold off until only the shell remains. This sad little plane had no wings, no engine and it had been gutted inside. It was basically scrap.
Our PTA holds regular fundraisers. Popular activities include the staff talent show where teachers, caretakers, cooks and learning support assistants do a turn to entertain the children. We have a staff band too, and hold regular concerts. That meant we already had a pot of money ready for the purchase, which was the biggest spend, so we targeted our fundraising at its refurbishment.
The site team and I fitted the plane out with the help of one of the teachers. It was a bit of a mess. We had to strip out everything, angle-grind off bits of metal, clean out the interiors and drain fluids left behind, which might be toxic. We put a floor down and then used flexi wood and covered it in leatherette to line the walls. We built wings, fitted solar panels and added a cockpit using a flight simulator, which we already owned, so you can actually pretend you’re flying. In total we spent around £2,500 on the refurbishments.
The children get very excited when they get to use the plane as a podcast and radio station or try out the flight simulator. We feel like a very special primary school.
- Jon Baker, media and ICT manager at Milton Hall Primary School, Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex (702 pupils)
‘We hope to hire the second carriage out for corporate events’
Plans to revamp our library were shelved when our headteacher heard about a school that had bought a bus to house their new library. She wanted something bigger and better, and our ideas culminated in a search for a train.
We put out feelers and found Porterbrook, a train leasing company that offered us three train carriages for free.
We couldn’t believe it. Could we really pull this off? We’d need a lot of money for the renovation, but we decided to go for it.
We accepted two carriages and made plans to turn one into a classroom and library. The other would be used by the pre-school and for wrap-around clubs. Later, we hope to hire them out for corporate events.
The parents have been amazing. We raised around £5,000 in the first ten months despite the restrictions of lockdowns. An online raffle became my little project while I was at home shielding – I made lots of calls to local companies and contacts begging for prizes. Other fundraisers included a playground bookstall, and our local Tesco charity bookshelf generated £300. Non-uniform days and break the rules days were successful too.
The best fundraiser was the loose change day (actually three days). We asked the children to bring in a couple of pennies they’d found down the back of the sofa or something from their piggy banks. The class that raised the most was awarded a non-uniform day. It was bonkers – we raised around £1,000.
Our project manager contacted Taziker, an engineering company who agreed to do all the groundwork, including laying the foundations and the track for free. It saved us £1,000s. Network Rail have given their knowledge and skill completely free, too.
To get the carriages on to site, we had to take out some bushes, cut down a tree and remove the school gates in preparation for their arrival.
It’s early days, but we hope to get as much of the renovation as possible done for free through sponsorship. We have arranged for college students studying to be electricians, plumbers and carpenters to help as it will be a good experience for them, too.
- Sarah Yeoland, teaching assistant, Upshire Primary Foundation School, Waltham Abbey, Essex (228 pupils)
‘One carriage is going to be the library, the other will be a wellbeing space’
The headteacher probably thought I was crazy when I told her we should get a train for school. I just need your blessing, I said, and I’ll start chasing the dream. I had no plan and no money, but we needed the space. Our school was built for 90 children and now has 150.
Through connections at Network Rail, we managed to secure two carriages. One is going to be the library and the other will become a wellbeing space.
We got a construction company on board early on. They supplied a project manager and spoke to other contractors who’ve helped with fencing, landscaping, electrical and mechanical work. Hitachi also sent a team of people to strip the carriages.
This is all outside my comfort zone – I’m the school secretary – but once the project started, I had to get my head in gear. It feels like I’ve dropped a pebble in the water and the ripples created are greater than I could have imagined. Climate Action North raised money for us to put solar panels on the roof and we’ve been supported by the National Lottery – a major learning curve for me to put a bid together. We also set up a Go Fund Me page. At school we’ve held a reindeer dash and elf dash, each raising around £2,500, which the pupils loved.
Every week we have Cookie Tuesday when I use the school meals contractor’s recipe to bake cookies which I sell for 50p each. When I take the trays down on a Tuesday morning, you can hear the ripple of excitement around the school: ‘Ooh, it’s Cookie Tuesday.’ We raise £1,000 a term.
This project is going to create such a special place for our children. We call the carriages Dare to Dream and so far it’s been quite a journey.
- Lesley Smith, school secretary, Kirk Merrington Primary School, County Durham (150 pupils)