Our Lady Star of the Sea Primary, Ellesmere Port

Our Lady Star of the Sea Primary School

Our Lady Star of the Sea Primary School was in the enviable position of having a large outdoor space within their Foundation Phase. However, the space was sterile in its look and feel, lacking the structure to facilitate creative and natural play. Clear about the play and learning opportunities the playground should support, they searched for a partner to help them achieve these and found Playgarden.

Project Brief

Our Lady Star of the Sea was evaluated by OFSTED in 2012 and graded as Good. However, one of the factors the inspectors identified as in need of improvement was the outdoor provision. In particular the Foundation Phase was encouraged to ‘promote independence and choice…. by developing outdoor learning further within the natural environment.’ This was the impetus for change, so Our Lady quickly realised this was an opportunity to create the flexible outdoor space they required, one which inspired imaginative play and was not reliant on play equipment.


Headmistress Katherine Brickland was passionate about the need for natural play, ‘what I wanted was a garden with mud, water, natural play opportunities, that gave children access to the play opportunities that we were afforded in our childhood’. Playgarden’s Landscape Architect visited the site and identified many areas that would facilitate flexible play and learning The main design suggested grass mounds, bike track, copious planting, grass areas, pipe den and multiple surfacing solutions.

The effect was of a non-prescriptive garden with boulders and natural features, a sensory path, gravel pit area perfect for loose play. One of the key elements is a mud kitchen (and landscaped puddle for collecting rain water) where children are positively encouraged to get to grips with mud play.

The addition of freely accessible storage sheds means that children can help themselves to resources as they wish, without permission from teaching staff. Katherine Brickland comments:-

“What we have seen is a development of imaginative play by the children. Giving them a free space has enabled them to play freely, developing their understanding of playing with different materials. This has been great to witness.”

So pleased with the quality of the work in the Foundation Phase, Our Lady commissioned Playgarden to suggest a 3 phased design and build for the remainder of the school.


  • The open ended design empowers children to play imaginatively, and freely select resources to enhance play.
  • The dedicated bike track contains wheeled toys, freeing up the other space and promoting consideration of others.
  • The puddle provides natural water play.
  • Mud Kitchen nurtures home play and gives children the benefits of learning about the creation of mud, and its different properties in different forms.
  • Loose gravel pit and bark area encourage sensory exploration, loose parts play and transportation.
  • Concrete pipe den perfect for inventive role play, can be a cave, house, tunnel… anything.
  • Extensive sensory planting has created a varied landscape, one the changes through the seasons and will attract a variety of wildlife.


Equipment: Pipe den, mud kitchen, storage sheds

Landscaping: Mounding, bike track, planting, sensory path, gravel pit, water play

What the client said…