Beautiful bathrooms send a positive message

Students help turn toilets into art spaces to improve wellbeing.

11 February 2020
Four students holding up the panels
Image: Stanford Merthyr Infants School students with their new bathroom panels. Credit- Darren J Burns, Action Productions Australia.

Cessnock students have turned their school bathrooms into works of art and havens of mental health as part of a community wellbeing project.

The Confident Cubicles project involved 20 schools across the Cessnock network, 851 litres of paint and support from the Cessnock Men's Shed and Bunnings.

The former principal of Stanford Merthyr Infants School, Anne Carr, who oversaw her school's involvement, said the project involved the students designing and painting brightly coloured motifs and positive messages for panels and toilet doors in school bathrooms.

'It might seem a strange place for that kind of art, but school bathrooms have always been places where students have hung out and felt confident in talking to their mates,' Ms Carr said.

'In that context the project makes perfect sense.'

The idea came from a project in the United States spotted by local Department of Communities and Justice Senior Project Officer Melanie Mackie, who with colleagues adapted it from a staff program to being a student-led initiative.

'The local Cessnock community had identified mental health, particularly in young people, as being a priority in the area and I thought that a youth-led project would be a great way to promote a positive self-image and lead to a greater sense of wellbeing,' Ms Mackie said.

The Department of Communities and Justice produced a YouTube video to showcase the work.

Mount View High School teacher Jude Willis said school toilets tended to be a place where students escaped to when they had problems.

'We thought it would be a very positive and uplifting thing for some of our students, especially when they tend to run and hide in the toilets,' she said.

Reagan, a Year 2 student at Stanford Merthyr Infants School, said she thought the project would be very beneficial to the students.

'If we are having a down day, we can pick ourselves up by looking at the paintings on the toilet door,' she said.

Year 10 student at Mount View High School, Phoebey, was involved in the project painting her works on the wooden door panels.

'I want people to have that emotional connection to something that I've done,' she said.

Cessnock Public School Year 5 student, Abby, said the project would 'really help kids'.

'Some kids get really emotional and a bathroom is a place where they can get some alone time so it needs to look nice,' she said.

By the end of the project 295 timber frames were assembled, 851 litres of paint were used and 20 schools installed the decorated door frames in toilets used by about 6,000 students.

Bunnings Cessnock supplied timber free of charge, the Cessnock Men's Shed volunteered to make up the panels from the timber and the Department of Communities and Justice supplied the paint.

The University of Newcastle is monitoring the program to evaluate its impact on improving students' sense of wellbeing.

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