It was the hottest April day on record, so the sun was blazing, as 14 students from Hoe Valley School in Surrey and our Yes Futures Coaches excitedly got on the mini bus to West London.
We arrived at our destination nestled between high rise buildings and under the Heathrow flight path and hidden behind an unassuming gate. We entered to discover the surprisingly beautiful Salopian Gardens.
Salopian Gardens is a community garden of Cultivate London which is based across multiple derelict sites in West London. They train unemployed young people in landscape gardening and horticulture, and work to engage the community in food growing.
Upon arrival, we were introduced to Alex and Sarah who work there and quickly put us to work after issuing everyone with big black gloves - not ideal on a hot day but they did cause much amusement!
The students’ first task was to get a load of potted plants into the ground. Everyone had such energy selecting their trowels (according to the students, the bigger the better). As they all knelt down amongst the flowers, they quickly selected their plants and got digging. Some of the children had experience of doing this and to some it was a totally new experience. It was amazing seeing them learning from each other. They learnt that the roots needed to be detangled from the bottom of the pots to remove them easily. They finished the task with such efficiency that they were then searching for more plants to work with. They then took it upon themselves to do some weeding, a little sweeping up and of course, there was watering of the plants. You can imagine what happened next on a hot sunny day with 14 children let lose with water cans and sprayers!
After a refreshing drink of water from jam jars, the next task was a manual job. A whole pile of bamboo canes needed moving from one side of the gardens to the other. Once again, everyone got stuck in. Many challenging themselves to carry as many as the could.
Our final task of the day and the one that saw many of our students really step up and shine, was the construction of a huge 4 sectioned composting area. This required clearing the area - a huge job in itself. The next step was the erection of large metal dividers and finally preparing the existing materials ready for composting.
The Coaches quickly stood back and let the students take on the task without their input. One student who had, until that time been pretty quiet, emerged as a natural leader. He also had a team of his fellow students who pulled together to work so hard on what was a physically demanding job.
We stopped for lunch half way through. During lunch time discussions, one student said ‘I don’t enjoy school. This is much more fun’. Another said ‘I really enjoy completing a task like this and having something to show for it at the end’.
After lunch, it was back to work. The roles that the students had created continued - the leader, the workers and those who were a little more reluctant to get involved. The reluctant students were then tasked with completing a quiz which they headed off and did successfully.
As time ticked on, we had 30 minutes left and a lot of work still to do. With the urgency that this created, the team pulled together even more. Helping each other out, calling out to each other and general hard work. It was a highlight of the day to see how productive they were; driven by their motivation to complete the composting area.
And they did it! How rightly proud they were and what a sense of achievement! Photographs were taken and back on the mini bus we went.
On arrival back to the school, we headed to the park for a short time with the intention of a de-brief. There was a large hill - so before any debrief could take place, the students started rolling down the hill! 14 year 8 students, having fun deservedly after a physically hard day of work, made even more challenging in the heat.
Finally, our debrief. What did the students get from the Play Your Part Day?
Here is just some of what they told us:
‘I really enjoyed it. I’m proud of what we managed to do’ ‘I kept going. I’d usually have stopped but I worked so hard I had sweat dripping down my face!’
‘We worked as a team and achieved results together’
‘My favourite bit - seeing how much difference we made to the compost area by working together’
‘My favourite part was at the beginning- taking plants out of pots and then planting them in the ground and watering them’
When asked "Is there anything we could have done better?" - one response was "to stay there longer and continue working"
And that says it all. The words of the students themselves, summing up what the Play Your Part Day means to them.
The Play Your Part day is an integral part of our Yes Futures programmes. To find out more about the programmes and how we can support your students, please contact Sophie Bartlett: firstname.lastname@example.org