Many of us will have dreamt of exploring our own secret garden when we were young — and perhaps still do. Well, for Redhill Primary School students this is about to come true.
In the hope to use Cannock Chase’s green spaces to address the wellbeing of the children and the surrounding community, the school will create a not-so-secret discovery garden over the next five years.
The plan is to transform what is currently a grass field, to the left of the school, into something spectacular. The garden will act as a safe space to benefit the area by providing an alternative way to tackle various issues including physical fitness, social isolation, diet, mental health, escaping technology and more.
Senior wellbeing coordinator at Inspiring Healthy Lifestyles (IHL), Hettie Pigott, who is overseeing the project says: ‘In our ex-mining area, there’s a lack of use of green space in positive ways to address different wellbeing avenues.’ She explains the discovery garden aims to be a place that children can escape in, create imaginary worlds and learn skills. It may also encourage children to express how they are feeling by providing the opportunity and freedom to share in this type of environment.
‘If you’re having a conversation while digging potatoes, you feel more comfortable to share and problem solve in that way,’ Hettie explains.
As one of IHL’s hotspots, Redhill was selected to benefit the surrounding catchment area and for its detached position from Cannock’s other green spaces.
‘We have done projects with Redhill in the past,’ says Hettie, ‘they have the space to create the garden and they actually border onto another primary school so it can [have] a dual purpose.’
Following approval of an initial application, IHL now has funding for work in the garden, described as the green version of Disneyland, to begin.
It will consist of four key zones: a learning area, a wildlife zone, discovery section and growing patch. It will be a multi-purpose facility used as an outdoor classroom and play area for the children.
‘There’s already massive laurel bushes which have been there for years but [we hope to use] those to create tunnels which the children can run through,’ says Hettie.
‘Their imaginations can really grow and go wild,’ she adds, ‘but [they can] also learn about plants, where food comes from, how you need to look after them and the care that it takes. There will be an allotment growing things which can be used in cooking [such as] herbs and potatoes. We would love to have an orchard with some apples. Plus, we would like to integrate themes of Cannock Chase [as] an area of outstanding natural beauty.’
Initial work with the pupils is taking place between now and Christmas. Following that, founder of garden design consultancy Up The Garden Path, David Robinson, will work with the children and their families to create a bespoke design suited to the needs of the community.
The garden could also inspire future career prospects for the children and increase their confidence to achieve them.
‘Not all children are academic,’ explains Hettie, ‘but if you can get them interested and focussed on something, then that may improve their performance within the classroom. Children aren’t necessarily aware that if you love gardening, you can become a gardener. People don’t realise that is a career path and not just a hobby.’
However, the garden won’t just benefit the children but the wider community also. In addition to bridging the gap between different generations, it will help to tackle social isolation.
‘People have different talents and interests and they can share, teach and inspire others to get involved from parents, grandparents, friends and families to people that live nearby the school. They might not have a connection through a pupil at the school but they may have attended 20 years ago and want to be involved still,’ adds Hettie.
‘It creates an opportunity for people to socialise. People can meet, talk and create bonds, new connections and support networks.’
Group activities intend to be held at the site including family digging sessions and sunflower growing competitions in the hope to help the children flourish as well as nature. When the garden is being used for lessons, it will be locked to the community. Otherwise, people will be able to access it at weekends.
Hettie can’t wait to get her hands dirty and see the children’s ideas come to life.
The garden is part of the wider National Lottery funded ‘Chase UP’ project which began last year and aims to engage local residents, schools and voluntary organisations in a range of creative health and wellbeing opportunities while making the most of green spaces across the Cannock Chase district.
Hettie says: ‘It is a fantastic opportunity to share what you know, help others grow things and a lovely project to be involved in. It is not about being an expert; it is about learning together and often people know more than they think.
‘In many ways, we are on a journey of discovery. It is exciting. Let’s go and discover something, maybe it is something you didn’t know about yourself, new friends, new coping mechanisms or new skills. Come and be part of something that is special, will help not only yourself but the community and will grow into something beautiful.’
Planning will begin in January 2020 with work commencing in May.