School allotment scheme rooted in community spirit receives national praise

Ian Hurst, eco-therapy tutor at Westbourne Academy in Ipswich 

Ian Hurst, eco-therapy tutor at Westbourne Academy in Ipswich - Credit: Estelle Pepper/Westbourne Academy

An Ipswich high school has received national praise after teaching its children and their families how to grow their own food during the coronavirus pandemic.

Westbourne Academy had already been teaching its students about how to grow vegetables through its own allotment and the nearby Bramford Lane Allotments – but in the wake of the first national lockdown knew it had to do something to help local foodbanks.

With a greenhouse full of seedlings in March 2020, the school – led by eco-therapy tutor Ian Hirst – decided to donate seedlings to local families to try their hand at growing their own food, while the rest were planted by allotment committee members for local foodbanks at the request of the families.

A vegetable growing on an allotment patch

A range of fruit and vegetables have been grown by children at the school and their families - Credit: Westbourne Academy

The project soon grew, with families sharing their successes with each other via email as Mr Hirst continued to deliver more plants once they were ready to be planted. 

Soon enough, families had grown their own tomatoes, cucumbers, chillies and spring onions – while others grew beetroot, carrots and pumpkins and a host of other fruits and vegetables.

For some families, this was the first time they had ever tried growing their own food and it is hoped they will now be inspired to continue in doing so.

An allotment patch with plants

The school has its own allotment, but also works in partnership with a community project at the Bramford Lane Allotments - Credit: Westbourne Academy

Their work has not gone unnoticed – with the school now having been awarded four of five awards by the Royal Horticultural Society's Campaign for School Gardening initiative in just 18 months. They are now awaiting the arrival of their fifth and final award – recognising their recycling, repurposing and biodiversity efforts alongside the community scheme.

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Mr Hirst, who also has a plot on the Bramford Lane Allotments, said: “I am extremely proud of my gardening group, their progress and the links we have established with the local allotment field.

"I feel being able to grow your own food is an essential life skill that all students should have the opportunity to learn.”

Although the third national lockdown means children are not able to visit the school or community allotments, it is hoped the scheme will continue to flourish in the future.

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