Creative kids win local Design-a-Den competition

The winners of a creative competition, that was launched at the start of lock down to provide an opportunity for youngsters to learn more about design, construction and engineering, have announced the winning designers.

Tasked with using their imaginations to create their very own dream den, children from across South Yorkshire and Derbyshire submitted a variety of design ideas which included a wide range of drawings, photos, models and actual builds across three age groups. They were particularly encouraged to think about sustainability and how recycled materials can be reused or upcycled to feature in their very own eco-friendly den design.

The ‘Design-A-Den’ competition was devised by architectural practice Peak Architects, aluminium glazing systems manufacturer Senior Architectural Systems, commercial interior design and fit-out specialist Ovo Spaces and social housing provider Great Places Housing Group.

The judging panel included a representative from each company with guest judge, Lord Burlington, Chair of Devonshire Educational Trust, also rising to the challenge.

Commenting, Lord Burlington (pictured) said:

“A huge well done to all participants, I was so impressed by the imagination and effort that was on show, a real celebration of childhood! I was inspired by the creativity displayed making it very difficult in reaching a decision.”

Commenting, Peak Architects’ Director, Paul Holden said: “We have been totally overwhelmed by the volume and high quality the Den Designers have produced.  It has been so uplifting to see evidence of how well informed our younger generation is when it comes to sustainability and recycling.  The creativity and imagination certainly haven’t been dampened given the recent lockdown restrictions.”

The winners were awarded an iPad with the runners-up receiving an art set. Take a look at the wonderful winning entries below:


CATEGORY: 4-6 years


Winner: Lara Shore, 4 years (Sheffield)

Lara created a model of her dream den with all materials taken from the craft or recycling box. Key features include:

  • a rope ladder to access the den, tucked away in the trees so the parents can’t find it;
  • a cool “chill out” area for all her friends to sit and chat, with a feather umbrella to sit under and stay cool on sunny days;
  • solar panels help provide electricity to the den

There’s no room for boredom here with a swing and ball pool with magazines and TV inside for chill time. Or take a ride down the water slide down, which also collects rainwater to fill up the pool at the bottom.

Here’s what our judges thought:

“Lovely use of colour, very imaginative and very environmentally conscious. Excellent use of materials as everything is recycled.” David Baldwin, Ovo Spaces

“A modular treetop design that takes tree house design to the extreme.  I particularly like this design because it focuses on being a sociable space for Lara and her friends.  The colourful and fun design using craft supplies shows great creativity.” Jonny Greenstreet, Senior Architectural Systems.

“Surprisingly, the only ball pool in the competition. Environmental considerations feature strongly and being out of parental sight is a masterstroke.”  Lord Burlington, Devonshire Educational Trust

Runner Up: Lenny Bates, 5 years (Sheffield)

Lenny wanted to create a den that could be enjoyed by his local community during lockdown. Built in the local woods, with a little help from Dad on the framework, it quickly became very popular with other youngsters.  Lenny encouraged others to be a part of it by challenging kids to make their own decoration and hang it on the den.  Letters were also left for Lenny of which he responded to each one.

“Excellent to see traditional, environmentally friendly materials being used but best of all this designer clearly  recognises the social benefits of fully embracing the sharing economy. Plus you might find treats!”  Lord Burlington, Devonshire Educational Trust

“What a wonderful and intuitive way of encouraging creativity and interaction with others and interacting whilst respecting the lockdown rules.”  Paul Holden, Peak Architects.

CATEGORY: 7-9 years


Winner: Marek Pillay, 8 years (Sheffield)

Marek’s inspiration came from his dream of a tree house.  He didn’t let the absence of a tree and his small garden stand in his way. He picked a corner and set about his mission.  Once cleared, he used bamboo, bricks, soil, plastic, string to name a few to build his creation, relying on items from his neighbour's skip such as turf and old floor tiles.

Comments from the judges:

“Great Den…fantastic set of photos showing the build; I got the impression that this was a real project for Marek.”   Paul Holden, Peak Architects

“A really practical project using old materials and bamboo to make a special space in the corner of the garden, it now looks like it has always been there.”  Raymond Kinsella, Great Places Housing Group

Amazing transformation to the bottom of his garden with some very creative design elements such as the trapdoor. Excellent use of materials as he has repurposed a lot of materials from his neighbour’s skip.”  David Baldwin, Ovo Spaces

“This has clearly been a labour of love for Marek during lockdown and a lot of time and effort has evidently gone into creating himself this garden-hideaway.  The scale of this build is really impressive and the photo diary has really demonstrated the evolution of the den-build and the attention to detail that Marek has.  My only question – can it get WiFi and is Marek willing to rent it to me as an office?!?” Jonny Greenstreet, Senior Architectural Systems

Runner up: Eve Wainwright, 8 years (Sheffield)

Eve really went to town on recycling and sustainability when creating her dream den.  She designed a parent free space where she can pass time playing lego, baking and crafts.

Impressive elements include a den on stilts to create a space for creatures beneath and a water wheel to power the oven; solar lights, tyres, reclaimed wood and recycled fishing nets for climbing.

“Nice den, interesting design on stilts and wooden furniture. Low carbon fuelling the cooker too. Nicely drawn and explained.” Raymond Kinsella, Great Places Housing Group

“I really like that this den centres around harnessing the power of water to allow all the modern conveniences that modern-day dens require.  Water wheels were key to the evolution of early industry and I love the idea that something considered old technology could still be used today. Completely sustainable and the sound of the paddles scooping through the water I imagine to be quite rhythmical and relaxing.  The coloured windows made from recycled plastic bottles I think are a fantastic idea, flooding the interior with colourful light.  Eve clearly likes to be creative and has designed a wonderful place to make and draw things, perhaps the next generation of eco-homes will be conceived here by Eve, Master Architect!!”  Jonny Greenstreet, Senior Architectural Systems

“This is a fantastic creation - the waterwheel is due for a comeback and it is very well deployed here. Lots of other thoughtful details too.”  Lord Burlington, Devonshire Educational Trust


CATEGORY: 10-11 years

Winner: Dylan Heason, 11 years (Peak District)

Dylan’s love of wildlife really shines through his design with great detail illustrated in his imaginary Minecraft version.  This creation has such low impact on the environment whilst considering the natural elements and recycling waste to insulate this overnight shelter.

We hope that Dylan gets to spend the night in his den to observe the wildlife in their natural habitat including water voles, herons, trout, deer and otters.

Our judges’ comments:

“Loved the journey that Dylan took us on…really enjoyable and clearly presented.” Paul Holden, Peak Architects

“Minecraft den in a tree by the river, very well presented.  Low impact design using what is already there in nature.” Raymond Kinsella, Great places Housing Group

“Brilliant - almost no materials used at all. Great site too - a very important consideration. I loved the Minecraft proposal - so many great details - the real life den will be amazing.”  Lord Burlington, Devonshire Educational Trust

Runner up: Kip Homerski, 11 years (Peak District)

Kip’s hideaway shows such a great knowledge of protecting and respecting the environment.  The underground space, coupled with the tree house element, adds another dimension and the option to customise makes Kip’s design really unique.

Kip has created a deceptive design making it all the more of an exciting place to hide.

Over to the judges:

“Kip's design is very environmentally friendly and this appears to be his main focus throughout the design. Fantastic use of recycled materials for camouflaging the den.”  David Baldwin, Ovo Spaces

“Good ideas and well presented, he knows how to communicate his design ideas with above and below ground.”  Raymond Kinsella, Great Places Housing Group

“All sorts of cunning tricks and deceptive ways to hide away. I love this. The mirrors especially.”  Lord Burlington, Devonshire Educational Trust

A huge well done to each and every child who took the time to develop and share their dream dens with us.  It really has been a wonderful journey for the team at Design-a-Den!

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