Durham: prayer areas prove key to challenge of stress in schools

Five Church of England Secondary Schools in  the Diocese of Durham have risen to the challenge of tackling stress and improving the wellbeing of students through the use of Prayer Spaces in their schools.

Responding to the Diocese’s Prayer Spaces in Schools Project launched in 2015, Headteachers from the five church schools got their heads together to try to answer the question: ‘How can we alleviate stress and improve the wellbeing of our young people, in an age where evidence proves that young people are far more stressed than they were even 10 years ago?’

The result was an extension to the Prayer Spaces Project, funded by the Hild & Bede Trust, which focuses on how prayer spaces can support mental health and develop resilience.

Led by the Dayspring Trust, which comprises of The Venerable Bede Church of England Academy in Sunderland and Ian Ramsey Church of England Academy in Stockton, the school project and extension was rolled out in both schools and also in St Aidan’s Church of England Academy in Darlington, Whitburn Church of England Academy in South Tyneside, and St Hild’s Church of England School in Hartlepool.

Talking about the Schools’ Prayer Spaces project, Mrs Gill Booth, Executive Headteacher for The Dayspring Trust, said: “We initially chose Year 7 as they also have to contend with the transition from primary to secondary school. However, many other students were involved as the prayer spaces were left open during break and lunch.

“The feedback was extraordinary with students reporting that they felt peaceful and enjoyed exploring their feelings in a place where no-one would judge them: ‘It’s a place where I can be truthful’ said one student. Another commented, ‘I was able to get rid of my feelings of frustration and stress so I now feel much calmer.’

“The whole project was very much student-led, with older students volunteering to lead the activities.”

The project culminated in an exhibition held at the offices of The Diocese this month to showcase the work through a series of presentations, videos and examples of how each school’s prayer space had improved well-being, whether students believed in God or not.

The exhibition was attended by the Rt Revd Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham and Chair of the Hild & Bede Trust, along with 60 Year 6 children from Church Primary Schools who were invited to sample the prayer spaces in action. Activities varied from school to school and all students were able to visit each other’s stands at the exhibition and try out new things.

Mrs Booth said: “No project that we have used in school has had a bigger impact on student well-being than this one and it is something that many of our pupils would like to see as an annual event.”

Mr David Airey, Head of School at The Venerable Bede Church of England Academy said: “One of the things about mental health is that, as educational practitioners, we can’t tackle it head on as we not GP’s. But a prayer space, be it a spiritual or reflective experience, offers a really important opportunity.

 It gives young people some avenues and some space to explore how they are feeling about themselves and the world around them, and, even more importantly, an opportunity to let go of things so they are holding on to.”

The Prayer spaces project, was setup in 2015 as two-year project to see churches and schools working together to create interactive ‘prayer spaces’ such as in classrooms where children and young people can can reflect on life and try new creative ways of engaging in prayer.

The Schools Prayer Space extension with support from the Hild & Bede Trust is focused on how prayer spaces can support mental health and develop resilience. The project extension provides for resources to be purchased and developed in order to create a lasting legacy for the project.

Pictures by Keith Blundy / Aegies Associates


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