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What a relief: art helps mental health in the toilets at Park Grove

A York primary school’s Pupil Parliament has artistically transformed toilet blocks to help improve children’s mental health.

Youngsters at Park Grove Primary Academy enlisted the skills of local artist Jess Beniston to bring to life their ideas to turn functional but uninspiring spaces into something more special.

“We chose ways to improve mental health as one of our Pupil Parliament goals,” explained ten-year-old Drew, from Year 5. “First we thought about using quotes but that then developed into whole themes.”

“They are now much more welcoming places,” said Heath, another Year 5 pupil at the school.

Headteacher Jo Sawyer said it was all the children’s idea. “What Jess and the children have done is absolutely fantastic,” she said. “The way the project has grabbed everyone’s imagination is amazing. The whole school has been so involved.

“Park Grove is known as being arty and creative, bright and colourful – and this now extends to the toilets!

Artist Jess, who runs Arts’cool, took some of the children’s imaginative drawings and then reproduced them on a much bigger scale for maximum impact. “There were no preconceived ideas and children are so much better at letting their imaginations run free than adults. This is very much their project and it has been great to see everyone so engaged. The magic is infectious.

“Children with special educational needs have especially been taken with the ideas,” she said.

Site manager Gary Stoner has helped by cutting shapes out of MDF to bring some of the illustrations to life.

Three Key Stage Two toilet blocks have so far had the artistic treatment, with themes of Harry Potter, Dr Seuss and Wonderland. Work is just starting on the fourth, a boys’ toilet block on the theme of Space. Miss Sawyer said because of the success, she has “big ideas” for toilets at the younger end of the school.

Outside the Harry Potter bathroom is a suitcase and trolley disappearing into the wall of Platform nine and three-quarters and inside is a goblet of fire, where negative thoughts can be disposed of by writing them down and leaving them behind. Each of the rooms has taken about four days’ work.

The Pupils Parliament initiative is a regular online forum where representatives from each school work together on specific goals proposed by the United Nations.

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