University Students Transform Caravan

“Wiston Wanderer”, one of Several Projects Planned along Charity’s Future Interpretive Trail for Disadvantaged Youngsters.

Two University of Strathclyde architecture students from Glasgow, Fiona MacGregor and Clare Paton, have completely converted a tired caravan at Wiston Lodge into a beautifully designed outdoor education classroom for local children in need. The impressive task, which was undertaken by the duo as a joint Masters Thesis project, will become an important component of an interpretive trail that Wiston Lodge is designing for its young visitors.  The caravan, dubbed the “Wiston Wanderer” by the classroom’s architects, will be used by many of the children and young people involved with programmes at the charity, but was especially designed with the needs of autistic children in mind.

Says Derek Hill, Studio Director for the University of Strathclyde’s Architecture Department, “The ‘Wiston Wanderer’ project was two years in the making – and the result of a chance conversation I had with Jonny Sutherland, Wiston Lodge’s Managing Director, in the late summer of 2014 – but it really gathered pace when Clare and Fiona took on the challenge during their Masters in Architecture in June of this year.”

Having been involved in the University of Strathclyde’s recent Architecture International Itinerant Workshop, hosted by Wiston Lodge and attended by students from as far away as Inner Mongolia, Clare and Fiona worked with Wiston Lodge’s staff and volunteers to find a project that could be of benefit to the lodge’s visitors and educators.  They decided that the “Wiston Wanderer” idea was a perfect fit given the charity’s recent efforts to design and construct an interpretive trail for children through the group’s extensive woodland.  (The interpretive trail is intended to be a path which will eventually feature games, musical instruments and built structures which will all help the instructors interpret the local environment, folklore and history to the children.)

Over the course of five weeks this summer Fiona and Clare stripped the caravan, demolished its rooms and completely redesigned its interior.  They then insulated, plastered and repainted the caravan while refitting its interior with custom-made furniture and chalk boards.  They also stenciled the caravan’s walls with ecological themes and figures: the seasonal changes of foliage and weather, foraging squirrels, perching birds and flying bees. Lastly, Fiona and Clare along with a crew of Wiston Lodge staff moved the long-immobile vehicle to a better location within the wood.

Says Clare, “Looking back on everything that we had to do and the tight deadline that we were under, I am really glad that we just got on with it!  We’re happy with the results and grateful for the opportunity to help Wiston Lodge with some of its efforts.”

Clare and Fiona had an overall budget of £1000 for the project but they didn’t let finances or time constrain the quality of their work.  The students approached several local businesses including Atkins, who donated £1000 to towards their effort as well as MAKlab who provided a generous discount on materials for the vinyl artwork.  The result was a classroom space that was perfectly suited for the hundreds of youngsters using Wiston Lodge’s grounds annually, including those with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a group that has become increasingly prevalent within Wiston Lodge’s client base over the last few years.

During the project’s initial phase, Fiona and Clare heavily researched what would be most appropriate in terms of interior design, conducting academic research and interviews with specialists who work with ASD children.  Says Fiona, “We were extremely careful with our choice of colours and lighting within the caravan.  Children on the autistic spectrum can be overstimulated by bright colours so we carefully considered the interior finish, introducing elements of colour through the vinyl artwork and soft furnishings – even the selection of pillows and blankets for the seats were chosen with these facts in mind.”

Wiston Lodge expects to have groups of youngsters using the “Wiston Wanderer” no later than October during its autumn holiday programme.  Additionally this autumn it will be welcoming back a new group of University of Strathclyde students who will be studying the relationship between landscape and architecture.  Says Derek, “We are excited that the ‘Wiston Wanderer’ provides Wiston Lodge with additional, flexible space to assist with the delivery of their excellent programmes and we hope that, through future collaborative projects, our relationship with the Lodge continues to develop in the coming years.”