Its been six months since the school acquired its allotment and what a busy time its been. What started as a lumpy patch of grass has been transformed into a productive plot that now boasts six raised vegetable beds, a pond, wildlife area, wildflower meadow, a rainwater harvesting system, plastic bottle greenhouse, shed and teaching area. The transformation is all thanks to a big effort from pupils, parents and staff who have worked tirelessly in order to create this valuable learning resource for the school.
A successful fundraising campaign that began in January also generated £600 and a further £500 came from a generous donation from a private individual. The latter donation is being invested in a large work table for the children. It has been built by local blacksmith, William Pankhurst, and he finished it only yesterday! A plaque will be made and fixed to the table in memory of the donor’s late wife, who would have loved the allotment and everything the school is striving to achieve.
The Oakridge allotment site is situated in a beautiful spot nestled just on the outskirts of the village. There’s not a house to be seen, just soaring skies and the sounds of song birds. The school plot is a full size one but it’s easily filled with thirty seven children! The school doesn’t have a playground of its own as such, but is fortunate to have access to the two adjacent quintessential village greens. It’s rather like travelling back in time when you see the children all playing outside together.
This lack of outdoor space was the inspiration behind the allotment. Think of it as an extension of the school, where classroom learning is brought to life. Theories the children can only read about in books can be put into practice here. It engages them on a level that goes above and beyond the criteria of the National Curriculum. It beggars belief that this type of learning, one that satisfies the children’s natural curiosity and generates such wonderful enthusiasm, isn’t a core part of the education system. Learning could be so much more enriched as a result.
The school allotment has been warmly received and backed by the local and wider community. Local press and radio have given the initiative great coverage, which has provided a good marketing opportunity for the school. Local community groups, Down to Earth and Stroud Valleys Project, have also shown great support, giving the children worm and soil workshops as well as passing on words of advice to parent volunteers.
The Raised Beds
The school was incredibly fortunate to receive a very generous donation from Jewson’s in Stroud, who kindly supplied and delivered all the wood for the raised beds free of charge. There was over £200 worth of timber, so it really was a very kind gesture. Both class one and class two have their own beds for school specific topics and activities while the other four beds have been put to good purpose and planted up with a wonderful assortment of vegetables, all chosen by the children. From broad beans and runners, potatoes, peas and pumpkins, squashes and sweet peas, lettuces and tomatoes, the children have enjoyed being involved in the process of sowing seeds and watching them grow.
Back in February the children had a visit from MP David Drew, Shadow Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. He has been extremely supportive of everything the school is trying to do and even helped the children plant their seed potatoes! From that first meeting an important relationship has formed. The school is looking forward to welcoming David back in the Autumn for a spot of seed saving.
Speaking of which, the school has become a member of the Heritage Seed Library, which means the children can now call themselves Seed Guardians. We are the first school in Gloucestershire to hold this accolade, which is really special. It is a great opportunity for the children to be involved in important conservation work. They will be responsible for rescuing heirloom orphan vegetable treasures from extinction and in so doing secure the genetic diversity of our food.
There are important cultural and scientific reasons for growing old kinds of vegetables. Seeds carry stories through generations, and also across continents. There is a surprising amount of history to be taught through this cross-curriculum subject. Few beans can be as poignant as the Cherokee Trail of Tears. In the winter of 1838-39, Cherokee people in the US were forced to march from their lands in Georgia, over the Smoky Mountains; 4,000 died on the way. The shiny black bean the Cherokee took with them is an important heirloom seed and has been grown in Britain for a long time. Seed conservation is important, but by growing these old varieties - many of which have adapted to very local conditions - more can be understood about their adaptability to climate change, pests and diseases.
The pond has really begun to settle into the landscape. From its first conception on a cold and rainy day in January, where the Dad’s did such a good job at digging THAT hole, it is now starting to flourish with life. The children have so enjoyed watching the frog spawn develop - the pond is teaming with hundreds of tadpoles. There really is nothing more delightful than watching the children participate in the most simple of pleasures that is pond dipping.
So much wonderful work has gone on in this area over the last few months, the highlight being the dry stone walling workshop the children did with Adrian Montague. They all absolutely loved the experience. So rewarding to see them learning, and appreciating, this age old tradition, which taught them about the value of patience and hard work, values that are so important in this digital world in which they live. Work in this area is ongoing, with the erection of the fence underway in order to make the pond safe.
The success of the allotment over the last six months reflects the positive relationship the school enjoys with the parents. Education, in the true sense of the word, really is a team effort. It’s a close knit group of people who all share the same ideal - to provide something better for the children.
This photo is just a snippet of all the people who have been involved in the project so far. Mr Williams, the interim head, has been a beacon of support. Big thanks to him for having such faith in other people’s ideas and for letting the concept find its feet and flourish. The class one and class two teachers and teaching assistants have worked miracles with the current National Curriculum. Despite its limitations, opportunities have been created. None were more so apparent than on World Book Day when an author visited the allotment. Story telling, reading, acting and engaged learning were at the very roots. The children took that experience back to the classroom and it provided weeks of learning opportunities with amazing outcomes.
The school hopes to have the plastic bottle greenhouse finished by the end of the Summer term. The fence for the pond is due to be completed by the end of term as well. The large work bench has literally just been finished and is ready to be carried up to the allotment right now!
Looking a little further ahead at the 2019/2020 school year. Come the Autumn the children will receive their free trees for schools pack. Two hundred and forty saplings are due to be delivered thanks to the Woodland Trust. The trees will form part of a native hedging scheme that will wrap around the perimeter of the allotment creating a more defined area. It will also create an important new habitat for birds and other animals. Saplings have been carefully selected in order to provide the children with as many learning opportunities as possible. From working wood such as willow and hazel to a wild harvest from which the children can make jams and jellies through to wildlife hedging. The children will be involved in all aspects of planting.
As with all the projects the school undertakes on the allotment, the emphasis is always on the children and involving the community as much as possible so that the village and the school can feel the full weight of each other’s support. With that in mind, there has been suggestion of inviting local residents, friends and families to plant one of the Woodland Trust’s trees in memory of a loved one, therefore really unifying the space and all that it stands for.
Perhaps most important to the future of Oakridge school’s allotment is the appointment of the new head teacher, Mr Jonathan Preston, who takes on the role full time in September. Teachers, parents and pupils have great faith that he will cement the strong foundations that have already been laid on the allotment so that future generations of Oakridge children can enjoy the enormous benefits that outdoor learning brings.