10 Aug 2022
Pupils at Mill Green School in St Helens have been working on a project which promotes inclusion for wheelchair users through adapting picnic benches. From funding gained during COVID-19, staff and students worked together to create a project that all students could work on and would have a positive impact on their community.
Gary Constantine, Teacher at Mill Green School, explained: “Initially when we got the COVID catch up funding we discussed how that would benefit all students and what we could do as a project.
“There were several ideas on the table, and the students mentioned the current picnic benches in school were rotting and old and suggested that we use the money to replace these for students to use. The benches were really important during covid was we wanted to be outside as much as possible, so it was a great idea.”
From this initial idea, one student raised the idea of having a space at the end of the picnic table for wheelchair users – a simple solution to help their friends who use wheelchairs to feel more included in social settings.
Gary continued: “At first, we wanted to just replace the standard benches but whilst I was in one of the classes one of the students showed me a design with a section added to push a wheelchair under.
After explaining this idea to a different class one of the students said ‘why is it that anyone in a wheelchair is always like an add on, stuck on the end’. This is when they suggested that the space for the chair be placed in the middle so the wheelchair user feels included and can sit with their friends. It is such a simple idea, but one that is bound to have a big impact on someone.”
Once the students had made their suggestions, the idea for the benches was born. Teachers at Mill Green wanted to ensure that all students could be involved in the project and could contribute in some way, giving them valuable practical experience.
John Thompson, Headteacher at Mill Green School, explained: “There’s often a misconception about what our students are capable of – but our students have done some brilliant projects – they’ve created some big structures around the school, worked with retirement homes creating planters, working in gardens in the local area, and so much more.
“The projects have not only given our students confidence and built their skills but has also had a great impact in the community too. We’ve been able to offer our support to people who need it and have had some fantastic feedback on the work students have completed in local gardens.”
Mill Green worked on a full business plan for the benches and created 16 initially to sell. Students from all classes were assigned tasks and worked on the project in their bubbles, coming together to do everything from research and design through to construction and marketing.
Gary explained: “We did some research and there’s nothing similar online, we assumed there would be as it’s such a good idea but the design in its simplicity seems to have been overlooked. We looked at costs and design and then started construction.
“Once we’d constructed the benches, we made a complete business plan and ended up raising around £1000 in profit. From this we worked out which classes contributed the most and split the money like you would in a real business; so not only was the project contributed to by everyone in the school they got a second bonus which was to spend the money on something which benefitted their own wellbeing!”
Mill Green Students are always encouraged to pursue their interests and celebrate what they can do, rather than focus on the elements that may provide more of a challenge.
John explained: “The reason we’re here is to show students what they can do, the curriculum is there to empower students and match the needs of the students and industry. There are plenty of jobs our students are fantastic at, and we want to make sure they are prepared to go into these jobs and gain employment where possible.
“The students fantastic ideas have been picked up by an external business too, and we’re proud that soon we will be able to see our students creations at the Albert Dock in Liverpool.”
After seeing a presentation by the Enterprise Project staff at Mill Green, the Estate Manager of the Albert Dock in Liverpool, got in touch with staff to express an interest in the project.
Gary explained: “The Albert Dock did some research and realised this type of project hadn’t been done before, so contacted us for a meeting. They’ve now put together a business plan and want to get six of our benches on the Albert Dock in the summer.
“Every step of the way they wants to show that Mill Green school has been a part of this – including allowing students to come and see the production process. We’re going to put this story onto a plaque near the benches too, to explain the story behind this and we’re really excited to see people using our creations.”
Students at Mill Green continue to work on the project, with 7 students assigned roles in marketing, business development and more. The project continues to give them real work experience and the school are excited to see what comes from this brilliant idea.
John added: “For us it’s not always about the final product, its about the process and giving the students experience across a business and making them more resilient.
“We want to let the pupils get out there and show who they are and what they can do and enterprise projects like this help us to do that.”