Reflecting on success with PTA of the Year 2022 winner Friends of Bawburgh School

Community Involvement National PTA Week PTAs
08 February 2023
Taran Knight
We caught up with Kate Smallwood, Joint Chair of the Friends of Bawburgh School, to discuss the incredible Big Ideas Bus, top tips on changing the lives of your school pupils, and how it feels to be recognised for your efforts.

The importance of physical school spaces has never been higher. Many PTAs have taken on projects to rebuild old or create new spaces for pupils to enjoy. And that’s why we were delighted to award the title of PTA of the Year 2022 to the Friends of Bawburgh School.

The Bawburgh School might be a small rural primary, with just over 100 pupils, but its PTA, the Friends of Bawburgh School, are anything but meek! They usually raise between £1.5k and £2k a year, which funds new furnishings, fairs, and brand new library books. When it came to this project however, they had to take things up a notch. Joint Chaired by Kate Smallwood, the Friends set out to prove all of their school values with the Bawburgh Big Ideas Bus!

The project began in 2019, quite simply through necessity,’ says Kate. The School is housed mainly in Victorian buildings and was desperately short of space. Short of space for a library, and short of space for extra breakout’ areas to take smaller groups of children to work more quietly or privately than the busy classroom environment would allow.’ With school budgets tight, the Friends’ outside the box thinking led to the Big Ideas Bus. 

Fundraising for a project on this scale was no easy task in a school of 100 pupils,’ recalls Kate. We were very fortunate to receive a grant for the bus. The PTA, the whole school community and indeed the village community really pulled together to generate enough support to make our project stand out against projects of much bigger schools and organisations.’

With a helpful grant secured, and more support pouring in from dedicated families and locals, the Friends set about the challenging work of transporting, stripping out, and refitting the bus for their needs. They formed work parties with PTA members, parents, and staff, and over many weekends designed, painted, and refitted the bus. When COVID lockdowns came into effect, the Friends persevered with the smaller jobs that could be completed – sorting the bus electricals and laying new paths. Kate says, The support that we have had from the whole community and from many local businesses with whom we made links has been astounding.’

The Bawburgh School officially opened the Big Ideas Bus on Sunday 17th July, celebrating with a big barbecue and colour run. Now, many months on from the opening, we caught up with Kate to talk about the legacy of the project, and the mark it’s made on the area. The children love it!’ she reports back happily, having the extra space created by the bus, I know makes a real difference and allows for so much more flexibility for different groups and clubs to have somewhere to go — and crucially somewhere nice to go — somewhere the kids actually want to be!’ But it’s not just the pupils who’ve benefitted from the space. The school has a Thrive practitioner and she has created a cosy space at the back of the top deck which she often uses for her 1:1 or small group work… she has said how much difference having a pleasant and private space has made to her work.’

The Friends set out to create a new space for the school in an unconventional way, but they’ve achieved much more than just that. The sense of school community pride – in both the children and the adults in what we as a group have created, feels like the true measure of success,’ Kate explains. The blood, sweat and tears were beyond anything we had anticipated, but so was the end result!’

There are so many PTAs out there, all filled with amazing people and working so hard for their schools, that the idea that we would be singled out was pretty special.’

Kate Smallwood

After winning our PTA of the Year Award, the Friends certainly didn’t rest on their laurels! Around that time we had just started trying to raise money to purchase a new trim trail for the school,’ Kate says. We needed to raise around £10,000… so the £1,000 winnings gave us a healthy start to our fundraising.’ The Friends recently hit their £10k target, and are working with the school to choose the new equipment. It is really nice this time to be raising the money then handing over to the professionals, not doing the work ourselves!’

We asked Kate what she would say to a young PTA embarking on such big projects. Don’t be afraid to think big — and then just take a deep breath and go for it!’ she replies. This was a big project for a small PTA, and I think if we had thought about it too much we would have been too daunted to ever get started. 

That, and utilise all the help you can get — we did have a lot of help from different people along the way — both parents and local businesses — never be afraid to ask and take whatever is offered, but also accept that a lot of the hard slog will fall to a small core of people, because that’s so often the way in a PTA!’

What’s next for the Friends of Bawburgh? Who knows? Watch this space — although we are currently looking into getting a circus to visit the school as a fundraiser later in the year which should be fun!’