St. John Vianney’s RC Primary School

The students at St John Vianney’s Primary won the Future Schools competition in 2019 to have a space in their school refurbished based on their research and design. The aim of the competition was to promote learners as designers of their own learning environments.

The competition was open to all City of Edinburgh Council nurseries and schools. Learners were asked to design a space in their school or nursery that would improve teaching and learning, inclusivity and wellbeing.

  • five children from St John Vianney's primary pose with their trophy alongside Depute First Minister John Swinney, and Richard Park from HUB South East
  • five children from St John Vianney's primary pose with their trophy alongside Depute First Minister John Swinney, and Richard Park from HUB South East
  • learners from St John Vianney's Primary talk to the depute first minister about their design

The students at St John Vianney’s Primary were in Primary 4 when they began their work for the competition, telling us what their problem was and what they wanted to do change it through the redesign of a space in their school.

We are a group from Primary 5 at St John Vianney Primary School. Our school is in the Inch on the south side of Edinburgh. Last year when we were in Primary 4 our class decided to enter the Future Schools competition. We have a room called the AV room. Apparently, that stands for ‘audio visual’ room. Once upon a time the room was used for pupils to watch things on the tv, now everybody uses it for everything and uses it in different ways! But the room is old, empty, dull, bland and boring and doesn’t inspire us to learn. We want to create a space that works for everyone. A space that can change and adapt to meet the needs of everyone that uses it. Based on all our research and learning we have now created a design for a room with furniture and storage that can be used in different ways for all the different activities. A room that can be used by individuals, groups or whole classes. We want everyone who uses the room to walk into it and say WOW, this is a fantastic learning and doing space and I want to be here!

Competition Entry

The three slides below show what we asked the entrants for in both stages of the competition, five schools were selected to move to Stage 2 with one winner being announced by John Swinney MP at the Education Buildings Conference in November 2019.


This is the scrapbook entry from St John Vianney’s students which showed their research, ideas and planning.

Design Boards and Model

These are the design boards and model for St John Vianney’s environment design, showing a flexible room with a kitchen space for cooking classes, dining and learning space.


The Finished Result

In 2022 the General Purpose room was refurbished and looks wonderful.

When our learning estate team announced the competition I was really excited to be involved as I have a passion for co-design and values based design principles. From the outset we did workshops with the shortlisted schools, the pupils enthusiasm and designs were phenomenal and it was really inspiring to see how much they enjoyed attending Learning Spaces Scotland!

At the start of the design process I was on secondment at Architecture and Design Scotland developing work on agile learning spaces. I continued to work with the school on the engagement (just before lockdown) and St John Vianney’s was one of the schools I was lucky to get to in person engagement to develop the concept of a symbolic design language to use in co-design.  On return to City of Edinburgh Council I worked with Pauline (Mrs Reid) and my colleague Barbara Harvey who led on the architectural and contract administration element to develop the design and adjust to communicating through teams which was a real learning experience for us all, however using a shared language to communicate design really did help the project. We also continued to engage with the University of Edinburgh Shared Learning research team throughout the development who supported us with communication and engagement alongside continuing proof of concept of the design language.

The schools original design principles remained and I helped build a narrative around the design and develop some key considerations such as – 

Sustainability – with the playground offering opportunities to grow vegetables outside we explored the concept of ‘from soil to plate’ ensuring the door in the classroom to the outside was accesible. We were lucky that some local businesses Pinsent Masons and Abrdn were refurbishming their office space and donated the project some amazing furniture. We upcycled some of this furniture reupholstered by North Lanarkshire Industries a Scottish Government supported business. Choice of finishes were also sustainable such as such as eco-paint that absorbs CO2 whilst curing.  We were additionally grateful to utilise the community benefits scheme set up by our procurement department and Robertsons who were constructing the newbuild early years centre on site commissioned timber furniture works by Grassmarket Community Project.

Wellbeing – Building on the pupils request to consider nature, we continued to explore biophilic design principles from finishes colour selection including a  woodland scene and Scottish Bluebell wallpaper and timber furniture and signage made from upcycled timber – ‘The Zone’ the name for the space created by the pupils!

Agile Learning Space/ Kitchen – we ensured that the the furniture and AV were flexible and demonstrated how it could be set up in different ways for different types of learning activities. Upon speaking to our internal catering experts we were even able to use small lightweight induction hobs to facilitate group cooking, we just added some additional sockets down to accommodate this.  The consideration of spaces for hybrid learning was a big consideration throughout the pandemic, we added mobile trolle and video conferencing facilities to support this. 

As one of the key elements to the project was to give pupils awareness of the built environment and colleagues, suppliers and consultants really pulled out the stops to meet with the pupils on teams and in person to answer questions on architecture and design from sustainability through to questions on heating and colour selection!

Lesley McMillan, Lead Designer on project

With thanks for their pupil engagement & support to  – 

  • Shane Cryer & Colin Campbell – Ecophon Saint-Gobain
  • Paul McLaughlin – Multivista
  • Diana Chan – Tektura
  • Chris McElroy & Rachel Murray –  Altro 
  • Cat Hemmingway – Bute Fabrics
  • Valerie Blanc –  Graphenstone
  • Alex Melichar & George Tsistrakis – M&E City of Edinburgh Council
  • Sarah Brown –  Anderson Bell Christie
  • Roy Innis – Sharp Business Systems UK PLC
  • Scott Passmore – SSUK
  • Fraser Mackenzie – Poly
  • Frank Duffy – Steelcase
  • Mike Hancock –  Cornhill Building services Ltd

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