Stony Dean School: a social and environmental leader

Stony Dean School in Buckinghamshire’s Chilterns is a specialist communication and interaction college for children aged 11-18 with a wide range of special educational needs and disabilities. The outstanding-rated school works around three principles: employability, independence, and communication with the world.

How the school became interested in the environment

Shortly after Head Teacher Neil Strain began in his role several years ago, he was asked by a colleague: what do you want your school to look like? This simple yet thought provoking question had an effect. Of course, Neil wished for the school to thrive as an effective and nurturing place for students to attend, but he also saw scope for wider impact.

It started on a small scale. With the support of his business manager, Jackie Dwyer, Neil approached the Amersham Town Council and the kids got involved with tree planting on a site directly behind the school. Since then, the teachers and pupils have had the joy of watching the woodland mature.

From trees, the opportunities became limitless

Once the tree project had been completed and was deemed a success, Stony Dean’s vision broadened. Local initiative Amersham in Bloom asked the children to become involved.

Children started to write to local businesses asking them to help with conservation and step up with their environmental responsibilities. A nearby car dealership invited the children in to talk about their business, opening more doors to positive communication.

Within the school buildings, some of which date from the 1960s (newer buildings have a B+ energy efficiency rating), 400 LED units have replaced incandescent light bulbs. Unable to secure council funding, the school approached Salix, which provides Government funding to the public sector to improve energy efficiency, reduce carbon emissions and lower energy bills. This is an interest-free loan rather than a grant, with the savings made being used to pay it back.

Ninety-four solar panels were installed in April 2021, again using a Salix finance loan.

The new initiatives pay off, and lead to more change

In addition to the obvious environmental impact, the school is able to repay the loan — and make £1,500-£2,000 per year selling excess energy on the grid.

The school prepares meals on site and has two meat-free days per week.

To encourage wildlife and pollinators, a four-foot wide perimeter at the edge of the school boundary was rotavated by the council, and Sustainable Amersham (with which I volunteer) provided seeds to be planted. This has resulted in a stunning wildflower meadow, which looks beautiful and is great for the kids, bees, and biodiversity.

What’s next?

Now they’ve started, they won’t stop! Neil is investigating swapping from diesel-fuelled school vehicles to a community minibus, supported by the Amersham Green Fund. The minibus would be shared between the school and other local organisations.

The next focus will be reducing the consumption of gas. The school already has an air source heat pump in one building and will consider how to make the school even more energy efficient.

Neil and Stony Dean School are a true inspiration for social and environmental leadership in the education sector.

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