Cotton End Forest School

Sector: Education
Status: Completed February 2019

We created something very special at Cotton End. A flagship project for Lungfish and Bedford Borough Council. It’s a beautiful, innovative forest school about to transform the way a community grows, giving a tiny village school an incredible new home, creating 686 much-needed new school places and inspiring a generation to learn from the world around them.

About the project

From the start, Bedford Borough Council sought us out for this project and believed in our forest school concept. Together, we’ve taken the school on a hugely positive design journey, shaping the design around their ideas, creating something exceptional on a local authority budget in partnership with Willmott Dixon and Scape.

The existing school is squeezed into an old Victorian building, but on this brand new site, on the edge of a community forest, we’ve carved out a new kind of learning environment. The children will learn inside and out, in specially designed meadow, market, riverbank and woodland pavilions, as well as a vast outdoor amphitheatre. We’ve also created cutting-edge teacher training facilities to help the school achieve landmark national support status. It’s a project that’s inspired everyone involved – and a generation to learn from the world around them.

Client engagement

Working closely with the school and council during a series of 12 collaborative engagement sessions, we developed the concept of the forest school and designed an inspiring learning environment, both inside and out.

Through collaboration, we’ve taken the school on a hugely positive design journey, shaping the design of the building around their ideas. Together, we have created an inspirational and exciting environment where children can thrive and enjoy their learning, regardless of budget constraints.

Our Solution

With forest schools taking an outdoor approach to learning, the outside environment is as important, if not more so, than the inside.

The aim was to create a forest school with a village community of its own. Set within an extensive parkland setting, the relationship between the buildings and the landscape are exploited, encouraging the children to explore and interact with the outside environment during their day-to-day schooling.

We created a school campus of four teaching pavilions with a ‘forest gateway’ entrance building. The design also includes outdoor teaching canopies placed around the campus to provide shelter from the elements ensuring that outdoor activities can continue and be enjoyed, whatever the weather.

An Exceptional Outcome

Cotton End Forest School is now a three form-entry primary school with a 60 place nursery. Classrooms open directly to the outside, offering pupils plenty of opportunity to mix classroom-based lessons with the outdoor spaces; a pond with a dipping platform, amphitheatre, meadows, forests, outdoor classroom pavilions, a market garden and market square.

Rainwater harvesting, surface water drainage swales, bug hotels, solar panels and recycling all help the children to learn about sustainability within their own environment and play an active part in achieving it.

A ‘forest gateway’ entrance building provides out-of-hours community facilities, and the inclusion of cutting-edge teacher training facilities will help the school to achieve landmark national support status.

In addition to this, through working inpartnership with the Marston Vale Forest Centre, the new school forms a strategic part of Bedford Borough Council’s long-term plan to reforest large swathes of Bedfordshire and, as such, will have tree coverage of 30% across the site.

Our design for Cotton End Forest School was a finalist for the London Construction Awards 2018 - Architectural Design of the Year. This award celebrates projects that have been designed in such a way that they are sympathetic to the environment and surroundings, functional for purpose and innovative in style.