St Chad's primary school is in Patchway, in the north of Bristol. The school has a strip of young native trees such as birch and wild cherry along one side of its grounds.
Mr. Brown, the headmaster, wanted to teach the importance of creativity to the children at the school. He is especially interesting in helping them to see how important reading is and how it can lead to a person being able to create their own stories.
In partnership with an organisation called Southern Brooks, who promote opportunities in the area, a project was devised which included myself and Martin Maudsley, a very talented professional storyteller who is now based in Dorset.
Martin worked with the children to devise stories which were then told to me so that I could design and carve images inspired by them onto oak panels. These panels were then installed in the grounds of the school as a storytelling trail, along with some benches that the children could sit on while developing their own stories (or just chatting and playing).
I went into the school for one day and worked with the children to design dragons, as well as doing some carving with the after school club.
Les from a local woodworking group also very kindly came along on one morning and helped dig two post holes and install the durable larch posts into them, for panels to be fitted to.
I also spent a lovely sunny afternoon carving part of the fifth panel live at Patchway community festival and chatting to interested visitors.
The first of the five stories was about a young girl who meets a dragon that tells enchanting, beautiful stories. The storyteller in her village dies and she persuades the dragon to come and tell the villagers its stories. The dragon agrees, but only if the villagers turn away and keep their eyes covered to stop them being scared and attacking it.
All goes well until one boy peeps and raises the alarm, however all ends well with the dragon befriending the village and telling stories to them.
The second tale starts with two friends who discover some gold. They argue and so, to save their friendship, they give the gold to a young man to buy seeds in order to plant a garden for everyone to enjoy. The man goes to buy the seeds but instead buys some birds to free them from a miserable captivity by releasing them.
He returns empty-handed and worried because there is nothing to plant. However, the birds return carrying seeds and water in their beaks. They plant them to create a magic garden where not only plants but also ideas and dreams can grow.
The third story is about a woman who sits by some old apple trees and finds herself saying some magic words. The trees form a doorway into a magic garden in which flowers grow that bear precious jewels. She returns and is seen by a greedy man. He forces his way into the magic garden to steal the gems, but becomes trapped there by the trees due to his own greed.
The fourth story is about a farm boy who goes out to cut firewood. The different trees tell him why they are useful and shouldn't be cut, so eventually he burns pine cones instead. Then a small man (the 'Father of the Forest') appears and, for his kindness to the trees, gives the boy a magic wand that can control nature. Things start well but eventually the boy becomes lazy and wants summer all year, which causes big problems with the natural world until the man returns and takes back the wand. The boy realises his mistake and learns to live with the seasons.
The leaves carved around the figure are from the trees that grow in the patch of woodland there. The wooden squares cover the stainless steel coach screws that attach the panels firmly to the posts.
The final story is about St Chad, who goes to a monastery in Saxon times to learn but realises that he is missing having friends despite enjoying his studies. He goes on a journey and comes across a boy trapped in a giant's fruit tree. By piling up the giant fruit, he frees the boy. Next he drains a lake to free a water maiden who is trapped at the bottom of it. She thanks him and makes it rain, refilling the lake. Finally, he finds a statue of a warrior. Realising that someone is trapped inside, Chad frees the warrior by chipping away the stone covering him. It is a local prince, who rewards Chad by giving him some land to settle. Chad founds a school there.
It was great fun carving the plaques and everyone seems very happy indeed with them. Some of the installation was pretty hard work - digging eleven post holes alone by hand into dried clay! Well worth it though, the strip of woodland really looks great and hopefully pupils at the school will be able to enjoy the sculptures and benches for many years to come.