Solutions 11:29 05 Mar 2024

Ukrainian teenagers learn to make furniture to transform the school shelter

Rubryka shares the story of the Shelter Furniture project, which was invented, pitched, and implemented by a small team of teenagers.

What is the problem?

Mykolaiv region's Voznesendk school No. 5 is located in the private building sector — not every house there has at least a basement, let alone a fully-equipped shelter. Therefore, the school shelter becomes a refuge for many district residents. During air raids, students stay in the school's shelter for hours.

It is pretty uncomfortable to sit for hours in a basement, which, despite being clean, is not very well equipped. For the school budget, purchasing new furniture would be quite a burden. So, the children began to think about how to improve the school shelter themselves.

What is the solution?

The students of Voznesensk school approached this task creatively: they decided to create furniture that would turn the basement into a convenient and comfortable place. In this way, they decided not only to help adults save school money but also to prove that teenagers can do a lot of good for their school and community.

How does it work?

Create a co-working shelter for the school and the whole community

"We are fortunate that we have a basement under the school. Before the new academic year, our school began actively preparing for mixed formats — online and offline. Repairs were made with budget funds, and all necessary communications were carried out. However, the furnishing issue remained," says Oleksandra Orlova-Kasyanenko, the school's deputy director. The school had some chairs, but not in sufficient quantity. There were also closets, but due to the peculiarity of the shelter's architecture, which has the shape of a long and narrow corridor, they could not be used. 

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A team of students from Voznesensk school No. 5 with mentors and a teacher. Photo from the archive of heroes

The teacher recalls the horrors that Voznesensk went through at the beginning of March 2022 when the Russian army entered the city, and many residents used the school basement as shelter.

"Nobody was prepared for this, and our shelter was not in the same condition as it is now. People with small children just slept on the floor, on sports mats," the teacher recalls.

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This is what the school shelter looked like before the renovation and the start of the project. Photo from the school archive

After starting work on ideas for the arrangement of the school basement, the team of students analyzed the community residents' needs during their stay in the shelter. Since the shelter did not have areas for storing things, working at tables, and resting, it definitely could not do without transforming racks and soft chairs that could be turned into armchairs or sleeping spots. Such simple and versatile furniture will add new functions to the storage and help turn a typical school shelter into a modern co-working space, which will provide the opportunity to continue the lesson, switch to a practical task and work in a group, rest with a book or a snack, play board games or stretch on a treadmill. The teachers will be able to work with documents or hold parent meetings, and locals either just comfortably wait out the air raid or work.

The Plan.DIY educational program on reconstruction for teenagers from Pro.Pro.Lab helped turn the idea into reality.

Shelters also deserve to be convenient and comfortable

Plan.DIY was launched for schoolchildren to create their own projects on a problem that worries them and help them look for a solution. When selecting participants, the main attention was paid to projects from small towns and villages. Then, the results are more visible, and children have more chances to realize their ideas. They also looked at whether the future work of the teams would be helpful to other schools and communities.

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"Equipping a school shelter with furniture in Voznesensk" is a project implemented by teenagers. Photo from the school archive

Olena Shulha, manager of the Plan.DIY educational program for teenagers, head of Pro.Pro.Lab shares the team received many applications where the teams wanted to equip shelters, but it was mainly about repair work. In the Voznesensk case, there was a need to adapt the space to new needs. "This problem is an excellent example of Design Thinking because the solutions could be very different, and it was interesting how teenagers would work with this problem because adults often talk about children without children," Shulha said. She adds that the idea of the Voznesensk schoolchildren immediately attracted the attention of the creators of the educational program. 

"It would seem that when we talk about shelter, it should only be about safety, but the teenagers themselves felt why it is important for such safe spaces to be comfortable for a long stay there. Shelters also deserve to be comfortable and warm, no matter what unpleasant situation drives us there," says the manager of Plan.DIY.

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The process of creating a rack. Photo from the school archive

To collect the necessary $1000 for implementing the project, a Voznesensk School No. 5 team launched a crowdfunding campaign on Spilnokosht. At the same time, the children learned and tried their hand at designing. They had many Zoom meetings with organizers, experts, and mentors. The Peremebli team — designers Yurii Granovskyi and Andrii Batin — helped the teenagers deal with the technical issues. When it was time for practical work, the children went to Kyiv, where, in three days, they assembled the first furniture prototypes under designers' guidance at the Ostriv Platform, a local center of informal culture and creative practices.

"The children impressed us with their openness," says designer Yurii Granovskyi. At first, the children were shy, but when the team met in person and started working together, the cooperation was very fruitful. The children had a lot of ideas; they were very proactive, quickly mastered the tools, and understood everything.

Shelves and soft chairs

The children came up with the idea of a transformer rack that appeared precisely among schoolchildren. Then, the designers of Peremebli shared their experiences and helped teenagers implement the idea.

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Teenagers at a workshop at Peremebli. Photo from the school archive

The multi-functionality of the shelf was important for children. They saw it as a storage space for board games, stationery, blankets, and flashlights, as well as a table for study, work, or leisure, and an outerwear wardrobe.

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Transformer rack. Photo from the school archive

They decided to make ten racks — six for the central corridor and two in each separate room. Here, the most interesting thing began because they had to work with entirely different tools than the Voznesensk teenagers had already mastered at the workshop in Kyiv.

"In the beginning, we didn't have any instruments. We assembled the first rack with the help of a hex key that someone found at home," says vocational training teacher Oleksandra Orlova-Kas'yanenko. The mixed training format and frequent air alarms also threw the team off schedule, but they managed it.

"The Peremebli team taught us how to work with wood, for which we are very grateful," shares Yuliia Bashlyk, a 9th-grade student. 

The girl's classmate Daniil Petrenko adds: "I liked two things the most: making sketches and assembling shelves. In general, we tried many things for the first time, things we couldn't even imagine before the start of the project."

Schoolchildren also dreamed of soft chairs, but creating upholstered furniture was a difficult task. Therefore, a meeting with the furniture factory Comforto owners was organized for them in Kyiv. The children shared their ideas and agreed to produce a prototype chair transformer at the factory. This ottoman consists of three parts and can easily be converted into a chair or a bed.

The factory agreed to produce ten such ottomans for schoolchildren at a cost price, but after the completion of the crowdfunding campaign, all ten Comforto ottomans were made for the school for free.

With this saved money, the project team ordered tools for making racks. Thus, the school workshop obtained a drilling machine, a jigsaw machine, and drills. The city government allocated funds to purchase hand tools: grinders, drills, screwdrivers, and electric jigsaws.

Did they really succeed?

According to Orlova-Kasyanenko, the project team is now at the finish line. Some bureaucratic issues remain, but the main goal has been achieved — today, the shelter looks the way it was intended. Thanks to participation in other projects, the school was able to equip this space even better, receiving tables, benches, chairs, blankets, lanterns, and board games. Therefore, now there is something to sit and lie down on during air raids, and there is a place to store things and spend your leisure time not boringly and with benefit.

"Participation in the project allowed us to be heard and contribute to the country's reconstruction. The school is our home, and it depends only on us how it will be arranged," says the teacher. Now the children want to refurbish the school cinema. 


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A corner for relaxation in the shelter of the Voznesensk School No. 5. Photo from the school archive

In addition, today, the educational institution is equipping not only a shelter but also a STEM laboratory, which has been nicely supplemented with new tools. Here, the students have another dream — to create a FabLab workshop on the basis of the school so that everyone who wants to can come and work with different materials or learn how to work on the equipment. After all, creativity is what saves the world from mundanity. Also, with the help of Plan.DIY, schoolchildren are preparing their own instructions for making furniture and setting up a shelter, and soon they will be ready to distribute the drawings to other schools.

Even more useful solutions!

Mobile furniture for a volatile life

The furniture for shelter in the Voznesensk school was not invented specifically but was taken from the achievements of the Peremebli project for displaced people and adapted together with schoolchildren to their needs.

At the beginning of the war, creating flexible, aesthetically attractive, and affordable furniture became a unique challenge for the designers of Peremebli. After all, people needed to get accommodated quickly and cheaply in shelters and temporary housing. Designers set out to find such solutions and create the necessary structures. According to the designer Yurii Granovsky, the main requirement for the created furniture was people orientation and compliance with the open design.

"We aimed for anyone to be able to take them as a basis and repeat them without special skills or tools," says Granovsky.

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The designers Andrii Batin, Yurii Granovskyi, and Daniil Petrenko, a student of Voznesensk School No. 5. Photo from the school archive

The main feature of this furniture is that it is a modular system. For example, a shelf can change its configuration, and if the need for a shelf disappears, it can be turned into a set of stools or made into a table or chair. This, according to the designer, is also important because people's lives are generally mobile and changeable, and even more so in times of war.

The materials used to make shelter furniture are also a flexible system. Depending on the budget, timing, or availability at the nearest hardware store, these materials can be changed.

"The intersection of these characteristics creates an interesting result. Our furniture has already visited more than one exhibition, particularly in Barcelona, Copenhagen, and Lviv. This is a confirmation for us that we have done a really extraordinary thing," says Granovskyi.

Try to make something yourself. Free Peremebli instructions for making a shelf, table, chair, stool, and sofa are available via the link.


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