Transforming Learning Spaces

We recently had the great pleasure of officially opening the redeveloped Alleyn’s Junior School which included the completely remodelled Fortune Building and the new Rose Building, both named after theatres with which our founder, Edward Alleyn, had a close association.

Alleyn understood the importance of having a proper stage to enable strong performances and we hope that our new school spaces will provide our children with such platforms upon which to learn, play and grow and with which to facilitate the School’s educational vision. Keeping the needs of the children, staff and parents at the heart of the development were key. We wanted to prepare the stage for the next chapter in the School’s life, whilst treasuring its distinctive personality, energy and sense of intimacy and togetherness. We wanted to enable the children to be the best versions of themselves and also be informed by the progress that has been made in educational expectations, for example in terms of technological facilities, without losing sight of fundamental and long understood principles that nurture strong educational facilities.

Inside buildings we have tried to draw in as much natural light as possible, most spectacularly with the vast windows of the new hall overlooking the playing fields. Physical connectivity between spaces, avoiding pinch points and enabling calm circulation has been facilitated with wide corridors acting as spines through the Infant floor and the Junior floor. Placing pairs of classrooms in the same year group next to each, connected through shared walk-in cupboards and doors encourages communication and unity between children and staff.

One of the distinctive features of the Junior School that we have been keen to retain has been having all the children, from Reception to Year 6, under one roof. Yes, they have bespoke classrooms and furniture and some separate entrances and staircases, but they also share specialist rooms. These we have brought into the centre of the Fortune Building with the enlarged library at the very heart, symbolising the importance that we give to reading, literature and the pleasures that come from such activity. We also recognise the importance of technology as a subject in its own right and as a conduit to the world, hence the location of the Computer Room adjacent to the Library. With the rollout of individual devices to all our Junior children and use of portable devices by our staff, establishing a strong wi-fi throughout the building has been essential.

While the Junior School is blessed in having acres of playing fields immediately adjacent to the buildings the footprint that we were able to develop was tight and maximising every space around the buildings has been key. Dead spaces have been cleared, we thought about how often we actually used areas and we have tried to draw every space into the School’s daily life to maximise the size of ‘our stage’. The School Garden is being redeveloped, areas outside the Infant classrooms have been softened and made available for more play and outdoor learning.

School life is played outside as well and a good deal of thought was given to softening and varying our outdoor spaces. A new, central and accessible adventure playground has been built, which every year group plays on in rotation, each using it in different ways from the frenetic activity of the younger ones to the more laid back ‘hanging out’ of the older children. Physical activity and chasing a ball remain as important as ever and so retaining a traditional playground (thankfully levelled off now) as well as the construction of an all-weather MUGA (multi use games area, similar to an astro-turf) have been big hits, yet there is also an area for the quieter, non -ball, pursuits with lots of seating and space for quieter activity and contemplation.

The School’s sustainability agenda has certainly found voice in the planning. Extensive bike and scooter racks complement our School Street and have helped facilitate active travel. The Fortune Building is now crowned with solar panels to reduce our carbon footprint and sustainable efficiencies have shaped the construction and features of the new Rose Building. Planting of trees and borders in raised beds and the ground has softened and greened our school, making the natural environment part of everyday life.

We are proud of our school and now we have proper ‘street presence’ on Hillsboro Road welcoming visitors and our school community onto greener spaces and a large airy reception entrance. Our new Rose Building, outward facing and suitably self-contained with its own catering and ancillary facilities will hopefully be a centre for external and internal community activity. In the heart of the building is our beautiful, large and airy hall that is proving to be the perfect space for us all to come together for assemblies, concerts, coffee mornings, dance, drama and so much more. It is a performance stage of which we can all be proud.

Schools and communities are undoubtedly all about the people, but our Junior School redevelopment has been proof that thoughtful and careful design of learning spaces can enhance and nurture the very best in our school.

Simon Severino

Head of Alleyn's Junior School