Colour safe

Ian Gisbourne of Dulux Trade discusses how colour can be employed to help keep students safer in all education settings, in a post-Covid world

This past year has been like no other in the education sector. Many students spent long months learning remotely, as classrooms, playgrounds and lecture halls fell silent. But, as schools, colleges and universities have opened their doors once more to welcome back curious minds, a lot has changed.

The demands of social distancing and virus suppression mean these places – once so familiar to students, teachers and parents – are now home to a raft of new rules, regulations and procedures, all expressly designed to keep everyone safe.

But how do we ensure that in this process we don’t lose the essential characteristics of our education establishments? How can we avoid transforming these environments of nurture, play, exploration and delight into areas of inflexibility, fear and rigidity?

All academic institutions, from primary schools to colleges, face the same fundamental issue – how to increase the space between people when premises remain the same size.

This is where expert use of colour and a focus on occupant-centred design can help.

In primary schools, it’s well-known how a strong colour on one wall, with muted colours elsewhere, can help focus children’s attention. We can take that principle and apply that elsewhere – by using colour to demarcate spaces – such as areas to sit, areas to play and areas to keep one-metre plus apart.

For younger children especially, social distancing can be a challenge – and never more so than in a playground. But, by using exterior paint to create a star on the ground for example, with children standing on its points – they can have conversations with each other in an entirely safe manner. The same effect can be achieved with animals and flowers – creating a warm, engaging environment and avoiding anything that looks too much like a warning.

The transition back to a very different way of being at school can present challenges for these younger learners, as well as those that have complex learning or behavioural needs.

So as the guidance changes, being able to quickly adapt spaces through colours and symbols is not only a clever use of design – especially as these ideas can be installed without the need for specialist equipment – but also offers a low-cost way to help students feel more connected and reassured when in unfamiliar spaces, adding a sense of belonging.

Where classroom walls once groaned under the weight of pupils’ colourful creations, for the time being at least that will no longer be the case. Instead, paint can be used to create attractive wall art including murals.

Across all school years, children will be arranged in bubbles in a bid to cut down on unnecessary contact with others. Again colour can have a really important influence on the success of schemes like this. For example, if each bubble was referred to by a colour, then the blue bubble might only use classrooms, toilets and science labs with blue doors. The green bubble would stick to green areas and so on.

Larger spaces in schools such as libraries could be colour-coded too. Instead of one large library – it could be divided into four smaller pocket libraries for the use of each bubble.

With 1,500 pupils in some secondary schools, transitional areas where pupils come into contact with each other, such as corridors, can be cause for concern, but this is where colour can be used to indicate the direction of travel.

Repurposing of outdoor spaces will also be a key feature going forward. Rather than being used solely for break time and sports, they will increasingly take on a learning function as more lessons take place away from the classroom. In come specific areas with specific functions that are clearly demarcated. There will be spaces for play and social interactions, alongside quiet spaces for work and contemplation. Exterior paints can easily be used to repurpose these spaces, alongside gazebos and planting.

And more than ever before across the education system, maintenance and decorating budgets are likely to be stretched to the absolute maximum. Paint is one of the most economical ways to repurpose any space when like in most sectors, a little will have to go a long way.

Education providers will also want to ensure whatever redecorating projects they do undertake leave their facilities looking newer for longer – delivering value for money and preventing the need for frequent redecoration. We would therefore expect an increase in the use of durable products, which are designed to give a longer-lasting finish that is easy to clean and resistant to scuffs, stains and other marks, while at the same time providing a colourful backdrop for learning.

Ian Gisbourne is national sector manager – education and property management at Dulux Trade