Northfield School & Sports College, a secondary school in Billingham, won a £1,000 OVO Foundation Nature Prize with their student-led idea to create both a functional school vegetable garden and an inclusive sensory garden for students with additional needs.
Students have also used the funding to do more outreach projects with local primary schools, including seed planting workshops. Although work on the sensory garden has been slightly delayed, students have been making great progress with their vegetable garden and other sustainability initiatives throughout the school.
The school’s eco-team, led by a steering group of year 8 students, have been responsible for their winning project from the start. They thought up their idea after taking part in a local sustainability conference, that inspired them to boost the school’s sustainability efforts.
Each member of the team has chosen and taken responsibility for a particular area of the project. Ava, a year 8 student who is co-ordinating students to work on the new vegetable plots, has come up with ideas to upcycle a washing basket and other old materials into planters.
The team want to re-use and make from scratch as many items as they can. They have used the OVO Foundation funding to buy larger items they can’t make themselves, such as materials to create a shaded area, as well as a water feature.
The coronavirus pandemic motivated students to create an inclusive space for students with additional needs. Members of the eco-committee noticed that many of their peers were struggling with their mental health after returning to school, and understood the importance of nature connection on mental health and well-being.
Students hope that the sensory garden will be used during lessons as well as at breaktimes. It is bringing more biodiversity to the school, and there are plans to use the garden as a learning tool, where students can see real life examples of what they’re learning in the classroom.
Produce grown in the new vegetable garden is also being used in food technology lessons, educating students on the food production system. Over the next year, students at the school will focus on finishing the sensory garden and scaling up their food production, whilst also tackling other areas, such as plastic waste.
In the meantime, Ava encourages others to follow their example. “[Other] schools might not have a space as big as ours, but I think every school will have an area they could dedicate to being a nice, natural place for students to go and relax to take some of the pressure off what’s going on outside.”
Schools can win the cash to implement a community nature project. Schools from disadvantaged areas with high pupil premium are particularly encouraged to apply.