Stokesley students reveal plans to create an oasis of calm

The vision of a group of Stokesley School students, to create a Zen Garden in the grounds of their school, is moving a step closer to becoming a reality.

The Zen Garden was the brain child of Donna-Marie Brosnan, acting Head of Rowan House, who was inspired to create an area to support and enrich students’ wellbeing, utilising the disused piece of land she looked out on from the drama block. With the aim of crafting a calming space, that both staff and students could enjoy, Mrs Brosnan called out to students to come on board to help create the vision for the garden and, in doing so, it was designed with their needs in mind. The students’ response was overwhelmingly positive and, together, they created a project team to work on design concepts to develop the 15x8m garden to its fruition.

The Zen Garden will be a welcoming space for students where they can enjoy mindfulness sessions whilst appreciating the health benefits of the great outdoors. Dedicated zones will feature a number of seating pods, including friendship benches, where students and staff can relax, take time out and socialise together. It aims to be a setting where students and staff can build and foster relationships in a more tranquil environment.

Year 10 student, Rory Dack, has been appointed as the student coordinator for the project and will also share responsibilities for design and construction proposals.  The design will include a hexagonal wooden gazebo as a central focus, with access paths to the additional seating, surrounded with plants, greenery and environmentally-friendly bark flooring.  There are also plans for students to go to the beach to collect pebbles and rocks to create a bespoke sculpture, as well as working on a design to make a mosaic from recycled bottle tops. The emphasis is firmly on creating a sustainable design with strong eco-credentials, for all to enjoy.

Rory said: “The students are really excited by the project and are motivated to share their ideas to create a space that they have some ownership, and feeling of accomplishment.  We are working as a team and have regular meetings, with Mrs Brosnan, to progress the next stage of the project. Each of us are really proud to have an input in each step of the process and to contribute to how the design and construction develops.”

The Zen Garden is an integral element of a project to raise awareness of mental health at Stokesley School, with its Ethos Team working on initiatives to improve the students’ environment. Alongside this, the students have suggested inspiring their peers with 150 wall stickers, displayed throughout the school site, with motivational quotations which they have selected themselves to further unify the positive outlook on mental health.

The Zen Garden project will be completed by 2020 and is being made possible with £5,000 of sponsorship from North Yorkshire County Council who are offering the funding as part of their improving mental health programmes. Mrs Brosnan’s application highlighted that the school community is diverse and the challenge is to ensure all of the students have a sense of belonging and integrate well with each other. Additional funding is still required and it is hoped that local businesses may support the initiative and be part of creating a lasting legacy to benefit staff and students for years to come.

Mrs Brosnan, acting Head of Rowan House, commented: “I am so excited about the Zen Garden Project, as it starts to shape. The students are hugely enthusiastic and the design process is rapidly gathering momentum. We greatly appreciate NYCC’s fantastic support of the project and I am really looking forward to realising our aim of raising awareness of mental health to break down negative stigmas associated with it. The Zen Garden will be a positive, open and honest environment where students have the opportunity to discuss their wellbeing and practice strategies that will help them build their sense of resilience and self-worth.”