We decided in 2014 that our delightful school, an old Victorian school set in the lea of the Dassett Hills, deserved to have both the grounds and an attitude and culture that fully recognised the beautiful part of the country that we lived in and fully embraced every element of ‘Greening’ our environment. It was decided that this would take place in many complementary stages and we started to construct and formulate a journey plan based around the complete overhaul of every aspect of our school environment – inside and out.
Our first initiative was to design and create a Peace Garden on an area of otherwise unused sloping grass for the use by the children as a quiet and reflective area. We obtained some sponsorship from a number of local organisations and the garden was designed and built and planting commenced during the Autumn of 2014, being formally opened and blessed by Bishop Christopher, the Bishop of Coventry in November 2014. Forming a Church isle the central corridor runs between four planted beds and has curved seating at each end and is enclosed on all sides by a native British hedgerow donated by The Woodland Trust.
We then started The Dassett Gardening Club in May 2015 with a view to encouraging the children to build a greater understanding of the food process and gain first-hand knowledge of cultivating a garden area and all that this entails. The club is free and runs three evenings a week: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday (3.15-4.30pm), although children do some weeding and watering during lunch and breaks!, and it is currently open to all children from Key Stage 2.
The club should be viewed as a part of a broader initiative taking place within the school which aims to completely embed a culture of and understanding of healthy food and, as at September 2015, expanded to become the Gardening & Eco Club and is undertaking Eco initiatives in and around the school in conjunction with the individual Class Eco Committee members.
We have developed a large allotment space, which has been cultivated from a lawn area to the front of the school, for the growing of a wide range of fruit and vegetables and which is supplemented by coldframes, pots and growbags and a greenhouse. We use this to grow throughout the year and much of our produce finds its way into the school kitchen and our cooking club as well as being shared by the Gardening Club members.
The club also look after the weeding and planting in our Peace Garden to the rear of the school, look after all of the other flower beds and have developed many new beds to brighten the school grounds. We also have some large planters with seating adjacent to the Peace Garden which have been developed as herb beds which our parents can pick and use and eight large raised beds which we are using for a variety of evolving garden schemes – for instance one has been used to create the school logo in floral form and invoke the Victorian Park Garden style. These are also used to support areas from the wider curriculum. Our Reception children have their own outdoor raised bed area where they grow a wide mixture of vegetables, herbs and flowers.
We have a very active wildlife perspective to the club and have developed a number of bug houses and hotels!, a hedgehog house, frog village, bird feeding area and we are currently working on both a wormery and a second extensive wildlife area to the rear of the school which also includes all of the above, a butterfly and bee garden and bird and bat boxes. It was good enough to earn them all a Blue Peter 'Green' Badge!
The club endeavours to look at all forms of planting and cultivation and we have developed extensive composting facilties, have many water butts and everything is being grown organically. We have a constantly changing and dedicated Gardening & Eco Club Display in school giving them information about vegetables and gardening techniques and hopefully getting them to engage further away from school. They are monitored on how their skill sets are developing and we have the 65 RHS ‘I Can’ Statements which we are aiming to get the children to all complete.
We are delighted to report that we are also one of the schools taking part in the RHS Rocket Science project taking place in 2016 and have registered for the Potatoes for Schools project and, in conjunction with the Eco Committee are pursuing the Eco Schools Awards. Many initiatives have already commenced in and around the school including a saving electricity and water campaign, litter monitoring and transport awareness campaigns.
We are registered with both the Food for Life Partnership http://www.foodforlife.org.uk/ and the RHS Campaign for School Gardening https://schoolgardening.rhs.org.uk and we are actively pursuing their respective awards. We are delighted to report that we have now attained the Silver Award of the Food For Life Awards and, the top level, Level 5 of the Campaign for School Gardening.
Our vision is to embed healthy eating and a greater understanding of healthy food culture within the school and we are very fortunate to have exceptional school caterers, County Caterers (Food for Life Catering Silver Award holders), and an amazing kitchen team, run brilliantly by Pam, who produce a fabulous array of fresh food every day. Our extensive school meals information can be found here http://www.thedassettprimary.co.uk/school-meals/.
We have also, having received sponsorship from DHL, set up and are running our own healthy tuck shop, which has its own permanent shop in an undercover area close to the playground, sells a wide array of healthy snack options and is run as a self-contained profit making business by our Year 6 pupils and which helps to fund their trips. We also make produce available through here from our growing areas, particularly during the Summer months.
As a part of taking our initiatives into the wider community we are talking with our Parish Council and Church about the Gardening Club members taking on projects within our village and we have launched our first Farmers’ Market where we will marry our own produce and plant sales with that of many local organic organisations and suppliers.
We have many clubs and council members involved in the planning and day to day organisation and implementation of the above projects but these are very much whole school initiatives and are enjoyed and celebrated by every member of The Dassett and the local community.
There are many exciting things happening in 2016 as a result of our involvement with the Soil Association/ Food For Life and the RHS and we are really looking forward to our farm visits, our first Farmers Market which takes place on 21st May 2016 (see this link for more details) http://www.thedassettprimary.co.uk/the-dassett-farmers-market-21st-may-2016/ and being Rocket Seed Scientists.
The Dassett Gardeners