St Mary’s Catholic Primary School, Isleworth, Achieves the Live Simply Award

Source – Independent Catholic News

St Mary’s Catholic Primary School in Isleworth, West London, received its Livesimply award last week after a two-hour online assessment organised by CAFOD. For more than two years the school of 38 staff and 424 pupils has put into action a plan to move towards living simply, sustainably and in solidarity with the poor. The award is the 85th to be given and St Mary’s is the second school in Westminster Diocese.

The assessors – Ellen Teague (Columban JPIC) and Maggie Beirne (West London Justice and Peace Network ) – met with the school contacts for the award, Reception Teacher Emma Dawson, Angela Scott RE lead and Headmaster Farley Marsh. Their enthusiasm and dedication to their pupils and to the award’s values was inspiring.

They worked through the report presented by the school. For living simply, the school has regularly promoted 100 Live Simply ideas on the school website. A ‘Live Simply’ banner is displayed at the entrance to the school, made from recycled materials and there is encouragement of individual and class initiatives to promote living simply. Children’s liturgies and collective worship mark particular significant days such as the UN’s World Water Day. To reduce the carbon footprint of school meals, the school has a weekly meat-free day, highlighting that being kinder to the environment means being kinder to poor communities globally. Fish is always on Friday’s menu. There is a lot of interaction with pupils around the menus and catering staff are engaged in planning a Live Simply approach.

On living sustainably, significant efforts have been made to improve energy efficiency. The school is part of ReFit programme – London Schools Energy Reduction Programme – allowing major changes to lighting, boilers, electrical devices – and improving the environmental footprint. It also made a bid for further Council funding to allow for improvements to heating, getting more solar panels and developing ground-source heating. Points are given to children who are ‘eco warriors’ to reward recycling and resusing materials in classrooms, and picking up litter. There is a ‘paper free’ approach to communications with parents. Single use plastic cutlery and polystyrene packaging are no longer used in the school. The school has a cycling scheme with training for pupils and even supporting staff to obtain bikes for transport to work.

A prayer garden has been developed in the school grounds allowing children space for reflection and prayer; this is situated alongside a wildlife-friendly garden which contains plants such as Buddleia to attract butterflies. Caring for Creation is a component of Catholic Social Teaching woven into all areas of the school’s work. The Religious Education course offers a whole unit on the encyclical ‘Laudato Si’ and emphasises that faith is a key motivation for responding to the needs of ‘our common home’.

The commitment to ‘Solidarity with the poor’ has involved recruiting children to be ‘mini-vinnies’ – a project of St Vincent de Paul – as ambassadors’ of the Live Simply theme. The school supports a Marys Meals backpack project; a local foodbank; and CAFOD world gifts – both for staff donations in lieu of Xmas cards to each other, and to promote on the website. Biblical stories are used to raise awareness of poverty and motivate children to feel able to respond. The assessors met one of the older children who spoke about knitting blankets for people who are homeless and making cakes for fundraising events. She said she felt “special” and “important” for being able to help people in need. Compassion is certainly nurtured at St Mary’s. Links with the local parish are strong, although opportunities have been more limited during Covid. Regular use is made of CAFOD website materials for children’s liturgies.

The assessors were very impressed by the commitment of the staff team and its close working with the children and parents on all the projects. The Live Simply programme is regarded as a “whole school” effort. The children are fully involved in choosing the projects, and it was impressive to see how much was getting done, despite all the problems created by Covid-19. The school does much to incorporate protection of the environment with other issues of justice and the thinking about how to do this has been very creative.

For the future, the school has clear targets: recruiting more ‘mini-vinnies’ (linked to the SVP), moving the school buildings even further towards sustainability, and creating a new website which they will use to promote ‘Laudato Si’ and their Live Simply initiatives. They hope to ‘up’ the profile of their work across the school community and beyond.

The school was told it was a ‘beacon’ school, and that it should be proud of all it has achieved, particularly over a year when the pandemic has been so disruptive of normal activities.