The design for Edwardsville Primary School, in Merthyr Tydfil, south Wales. has now been competed. The design, covering over 8 acres of land, is the largest permaculture, eco design done in the UK for a school . The eco-makeover of the 8 acre site isn't just about recycling and compost bins, it includes free range chickens, a mini market garden with polytunnel, an orchard, soft fruit and herbs.
Already recognised as an example of good green practice, Edwardsville Primary School, near Merthyr Tydfil, is on the brink of implementing one of the largest sustainable school landscape
designs in the UK.
A low maintenance mixed fruit and perennial vegetable garden has already been planted and at it’s centre what looks like a house for hobbits is actually an eco-play shelter made from locally sourced materials including, cob (a traditional building material made of sub-soil and straw), lime rendering and a living sedum roof. The cob playhouse was designed and built by Down To Earth.
Down to Earth is a social enterprise specialising in Sustainability Education and Natural Building, based in the Gower Peninsula, Swansea.
The was the first of three outdoor buildings to be planned in the school grounds. In front of the cob playhouse is the award winning permaculture show garden which was exhibited at the RHS Spring Flower Show in Cardiff in 2009 [see below for details].
Down to Earth went on to build a timber frame horticultural classroom and later a polytunnel was attached to this for food growing to take place. The children now have weekly lessons in horticulture and organic food growing, which link into a number of subjects including maths, history, geology, biology, ecology and ESDGC [Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship].
Deputy Headteacher, Jonathan Rigby, is at the forefront of this new kind of green education, “It’s about preparing the next generation to be more self reliant, children will learn the skills that many say will be needed in a world where energy is in short supply and more food will be grown locally”, he says.
The design incorporates permaculture principles – a way of working with nature to create a super–productive landscape. It’s been put together by consultant permaculture designer Michele Fitzsimmons who has been working closely with the school, “The design is a mixture of unusual food plants which can be foraged freely by the children, for example edible honeysuckle, conventional vegetable growing and flowering plants to increase the beauty of the playgrounds and provide food for insects,” she says.
“As well as this I have also designed in playing opportunities which are centred on free imaginative play and move away from overly constructed and designed play – the idea being that free play is essential for children to learn social skills and also offers a complete break from the more constructed learning activities in the classroom.”
The school has an amazing expanse of woodland on its north side - activities for this area include geological surveys, minibeast hunts and outdoor school plays.
Theses rock formations are ideal for geological surveys and the wild raspberries will be great to teach the children about foraging for food in the wild.
A free range chicken area is planned, so that children will be able to collect eggs and observe the animals’ natural behaviour.
Jonathan Rigby, Deputy Headteacher says, “Children should know how to grow food, how to harvest it and cook. These are key skills and deserve to be part of the schools curriculum. Incorporating these ideas into the curriculum not only teaches the children key life skills, but also helps to tackle poor eating habits and potential obesity problems in later life. Outdoor learning in general can also help those children who are struggling with classroom learning to overcome their difficulties and help increase their self esteem and confidence.”
In addition to the food growing aspect of the project, there are also areas such as spring meadow and mixed native hedgerow which will increase the biodiversity of the school grounds. These areas too will tie into the school’s science curriculum, as well as creating a beautiful and restful environment for play.
There are also plans to create community allotments from an unused part the school grounds. This will help to involve the wider community and spread the message that local food growing is important.
This design for the new junior playground will encompass a play area for free play and ball games, a cob horticultural teaching space, a school polytunnel for growing term time veg, outdoor veg beds, a spring and early summer meadow on all grassed areas, a mixed native hedge surrounding the entire area, a New Zealand compost bin area for school composting, a cob play shelter and an award winning RHS school permaculture garden.
Over the past five years, the school has gained help from volunteers, and over £100000 in grants, from funders such as the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund, the Department for International Development’s Development Awareness Fund, and Science Shops Wales. The funding has paid for the outdoor learning classrooms, environmental and development awareness projects, the permaculture design and a school gardener.
Edwardsville Primary School, in southern valley of the Merthyr Tydfil borough, will be launching the new permaculture design on the 3rd February, 3.45pm, when permaculture designer, Michele Fitzsimmons, presents her design to an open forum of parents, public and press.
For more information and links about this story please click on the following links:
South Wales Echo - "Children Dig Eco Lessons at School"
South Wales Echo - "Children Dig Eco Lessons at School" - online article
BBC NEWS - "School Opens Outdoor Classroom"