Academy Community Gardening Project gets National Recognition

by Ian Hirst – Teaching Assistant and Eco-Therapy Tutor

Students at Westbourne Academy’s Wildlife Club have been recognised in December’s edition of “The Garden”, a magazine sent to Royal Horticultural Society members, for a community project orchestrated by their eco-therapy tutor, Ian Hirst.

During March 2020, when the government closed schools in a bid to help control the global pandemic from overloading the NHS, the greenhouse was full of seedlings ready to be grown in the academy Wildlife Club garden. Instead, the group decided to share their hard work with their local community. Students, staff and parents were given a range of seedlings to try their hand at growing their own food during lockdown, with the remaining plants being donated to the local allotment field, to be grown by committee members for the local food bank.

The group shared their progress with each other via email, with Ian Hirst delivering more plants once they were ready to be planted in the ground. There were a wide range of plants shared with the local community, including various types of tomatoes, cucumbers, chillies, spring onions, beetroot and carrots, with pumpkins being distributed during lockdown. For some parents, it was the first time their family had tried to grow their own food, with students sharing with home, the knowledge they had gained during class. There was an even wider range of plants being shared within the group, as families started to test their knowledge further by growing other fruits and vegetables.

The Westbourne Wildlife Group have worked their way through the RHS gardening for school’s initiative, gaining four out of five awards within the past 18 months. They are currently waiting for their final award to arrive. Previous projects have included recycling and repurposing household waste in the garden, and rewilding areas of the academy grounds to promote biodiversity, in addition to this community based project. The group plans to get more involved with their local allotment field, where their tutor Ian Hirst is a plot holder.

The Bramford Lane allotment field is very community centred and are very welcoming, having been visited by Ian Hirst and his Wildlife Group many times, prior to the March lockdown. Students were shown the varying seasonal crops grown by plot holders, community areas and plots used by committee members to grow produce specifically for the local food bank.

Ian Hirst said “I am extremely proud of my gardening group, their progress and the links we have established with the local allotment field. I feel being able to grow your own food is an essential life skill that all students should have the opportunity to learn.”