At the beginning of July 2013 the drama studio at Sheringham High School was transformed into a space for prayer and reflection for local students (750+), with colourful fabric, lighting and cushions, and by filling the space with different interactive activities and zones. Pupils were encouraged to use the space in a way that best suited them – from being creative artistically to having a time of quiet and thoughtful reflection.
The Soul Space was organised and hosted by Simon Fenn (Children Youth and Family Missioner, Holt Deanery; Church of England) and Peter Skivington (Youth Minister at Sheringham Baptist Church), along with volunteers from other local churches, and was supported by Sam Dangerfield (Head of Philosophy and Ethics).
Over the five days, the Soul Space offered pupils the chance to access aspects of Christian prayer in an experiential way that a classroom couldn’t provide and encouraged them to think and reflect on their own lives and wider world issues. An interesting aspect of the Soul Space was that its character and appearance evolved during the week as the pupils expressed themselves through acts of prayer and reflection.
It was an amazing week at Sheringham High School; the Soul Space was well received by the pupils and the overwhelming feedback has been positive. One pupil commented that, 'I used to think that it [prayer] was stupid but now it’s given me a chance to express my feelings.' Another pupil reflected 'that it [prayer] will change me and help me.' A lot of pupils have said that the Soul Space has changed their view on prayer in a positive way and given them the space to reflect on the important things - 'I thought prayer was just sitting still. I didn’t realise you could do it in so many different ways,” and, 'I thought prayer was boring, now I know it can be fun!”
Pete Skivington said, 'The Soul Space has been a great success; the way in which the young people have connected with it was fantastic. Students seemed to appreciate the variety of creative zones focusing on issues such as thankfulness, forgiveness, world issues, self-image and letting go of worries, as well as being given time out to stop, pray and reflect. The prayer wall was absolutely covered by the end of the week with many really heartfelt prayers.”
The response and feedback from the teaching staff has been equally positive; they were visibly moved by the pupils' prayers, big questions and thanksgivings. One member of staff said how some pupils who were having a difficult time found the Soul Space and the interactive activities very beneficial. Another commented on the change in behaviour of some of the more challenging pupils - 'This place has a calming effect on them.'
On two evenings during the week the Soul Space was open to the wider community and parents, governors, and local church congregations were encouraged to visit. Many of the visitors said that the space had a powerful effect on them - 'It was very humbling to be able to share the students’ thoughts and prayers.” Gill Baker, the chair of Governors, said she felt there was a real atmosphere/presence of peace that hit you as you entered the room.
Sam Dangerfield was overwhelmed by the pupils’ willingness to engage in the Soul Space and their positive feedback. She said, 'I had hoped that our Soul Space would allow my students to experience different forms of prayer. I had thought that it might enable some students to begin to experience, awe, wonder and spirituality in a way that I cannot create in a classroom. What I had not prepared myself for was how openly they would embrace in the activities nor how intensely their emotions would flow. The Soul Space proved to me that secondary students need time and space to stop, think and reflect upon their own lives and the lives of those around them.”
It has been a heartening experience and a real blessing to see the pupils' heartfelt responses, their empathy for others and their recognition/celebration of all the 'good stuff' in their lives. The Soul Space has enabled them to start to explore their own personal faith and given them some of the tools to deal with their emotions and feelings. The care and consideration shown by the pupils towards their peers dealing with difficult situations has been impressive. One pupil commented, 'I will be more sensitive and think what others are going through before opening my mouth.” The Soul Space has also given some comfort that they are not alone - 'It made me understand I’m not the only one going through a tough time.”
It has been particularly encouraging to see the number of pupils who have said that the Soul Space has helped them connect with God. Pupils remarked, 'It made me feel God is listening”, 'It helped me remember my relationship with God,” and 'I feel I can connect with God”. Others said, 'I didn’t know how powerful prayer could be,” and 'I didn’t believe in God, but now I will”.
When initial thoughts and hopes of running a Prayer Space at Sheringham High School were discussed, no one could have imaged how successful it would have been and its impact on the pupils, the staff, the volunteers and the school’s approach towards the spiritual and pastoral care at the school. It took a lot of prayers, planning, hard work, working in partnership and a good working relationship with the school in order for it to flourish. The Soul Space has changed the hearts and minds of all involved; it was a place to reflect and connect with God.
The Head Teacher and governors were really pleased with the Soul Space and are keen to include it in the annual planning of the school year. Sam Dangerfield said, 'We will definitely run another Soul Space so the pupils get this opportunity again,”. Revd. Christian Heycocks, vicar of St Peter’s Church Sheringham, said, 'I was touched by what many of the youngsters shared and the comments of teachers who had taken time to be part of the experience. I know the event will continue to influence future thinking around issues of spiritual and pastoral care at the school.”
The Soul Space team are looking forward to next year’s Soul Space and continuing to accompany the pupils and the school on their spiritual journey.
Children, Youth & Family Missioner (Holt Deanery; Church of England)