With around 165 members Corbridge Middle School has one of the largest School Gardening Teams in the country.
It all started with a casual comment made last year by Dr Meryl Batchelder, Subject Leader for Science, about how lovely it would be to make something special out of the school’s overgrown garden. A few months later some enthusiastic pupils volunteered to help her improve the Wildlife Garden, cutting back bushes, tidying up some of the weeds and clearing some of the pond.
The enthusiasm of the pupils in this lunchtime Garden Club inspired Dr Batchelder to embark on the “Garden Project” as part of the Enrichment Programme in September 2014. On Friday afternoons all KS3 pupils are now taken off timetable to develop new skills and build resilience. Specifically this project allows students to work towards common goals and to anticipate, take and manage risks outdoors. The aim is simple; to raise pupil awareness of the environment around them and focus on the concept of healthy and sustainable living.
Pupils garden in groups of up to 28. They have a jobs list each week and work on a rota to share arduous or less exciting tasks such as weeding.
The garden is now growing organically in both senses of the word. The school adapts what they are going to do and ‘Garden Ambassadors’ selected from Year 8 pupils coordinate the management of the garden and monitor which plants grow best and provide the highest yields. The Head Cook gathers vegetables and salad that she needs and recently they became self-sufficient in lettuce and other vegetables for the rest of the term.
The school has just succeeded in getting funding from a Newcastle University Sustainability grant for a large polytunnel, as it is exposed to the elements slightly during the winter months.
The last year has made a huge difference. From an overgrown wilderness there is now a pond, complete with viewing area and native water plants, which was immediately recolonized by frogs and newts. A newly fenced off allotment area has some raised beds that are ideal for growing fruit and vegetables.
The garden has led to new community links too with Corbridge Village Show, Corbridge in Bloom and Northumbria in Bloom. Some Year 5 pupils were also lucky enough to work with Alnwick Gardens Roots & Shoots programme in the school’s own garden.
The students in Year 7 and Year 8 have worked incredibly hard; they have laughed through the rainstorms, weeded until their backs ached and dug deep. They have developed team skills, tested their resilience and have built something truly amazing together. As a result, the school can be proud that 80 pupils a year leave with the skills they need to grow their own food.