19th Jul 2017 — Enabling Community Build at Mellor Primary School

Enabling Community Build at Mellor Primary School

Eleanor Brough

When we started working with Mellor Primary School on their new extension, their aspiration for community build formed a core component of their aspirational brief. However, it was key that we incorporated this element in a way that was safe, accessible, engaging and manageable for the school, and addressed issues of liability common in design and construction. All considerable challenges for a busy school staff and our design and construction teams.

We looked at different options for how community build and donated resources might be incorporated in the construction of the building, including the potential to utilise defunct car tyres as form work for community built rammed earth foundations. This option posed a number of challenges including who would be liable for the adequacy of the foundations; how would the school mobilise sufficient volunteers to help undertake this physically challenging task and how would the inevitably slower programme for this work impact on the critical path?

Pupil's ideas for the habitat wall
Compartment contents diagram

Through initial concept studies, and by gaining an in-depth understanding of Mellor’s active Forest School programme, we proposed a Habitat Wall covering one side of the new building and comprising a series of compartments filled with different found and recycled materials assembled by members of the community. The wall would be visually engaging, interactive and broken down in to manageable parts giving volunteers a sense of ownership and achievement.

SWA provided a template elevation for the school who ran workshops with the children, gathering ideas for what might go into the Habitat Wall. Using these drawings, SWA created a design for the wall which could be constructed as a series of compartments. Compartments were arranged so that more interactive elements such as planting, or insect hotels were located lower down the wall, allowing children to engage with and change the contents as they move through the school ensuring the wall continues to evolve over time.

Habitat wall construction
SWA team

The wall can be likened to a giant book case. It is designed like a rain screen with the Habitat Wall compartments restrained to the structure with metal split batten system. There are no fixings running continously though from Habitat Wall to the external wall structure and all the load bears down on to a to timber beam at the base, rather than the building’s superstructure.

This proposal was developed in response to the contractor’s concerns about the stability of the Habitat Wall contents, which given their varied nature may degrade less predictably than standard, warrantied building products.

The compartments were constructed in sections by the main contractor’s joinery team with the internal face coated in a liquid waterproof membrane. They were then lifted onto the split battens and the design allows for the removal (or unhooking) of compartments in the future if required. The school allocated each compartment to members of the school community (families, staff, governors), with the SWA team also helping to assemble the contents. SWA produced a booklet with suggestions for how each compartment might be filled – identifying possible materials and how they might be fixed.

We also produced a method statement for agreement with the projects’s CDM Coordinator and main contractor.

The booklet provided an invaluable starting point for volunteers, making what could seem a huge task more manageable. As groups began work on the wall they innovated and found different and often more effective ways of fixing the materials available. The school also tailored the contents of the compartments to suit their interests, for example jam jars filled with local soil samples of varying colours were installed and one of the governors propagated a range of plants for the wall.

This sketch is an example from the booklet, showing clear step by step suggestions for installation and fixing. The bird and bat boxes, made by the caretaker, Gary, to RSPB and Natural England guidance are the finishing touch.

The habitat wall continues to evolve, and the school are now embarking on a further community build project to form a new landscape route through the woodland, including a planted embankment formed of the defunct car tyres!

Guide to the installation of bird and bat boxes