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How Malvern garden grows people

Eleanor Evans 14 May 2014

Last week I used my company volunteering time to go down to the beautiful Malvern Three Counties Showground to help create gardens for the RHS Malvern Spring Festival 2014. Along with other BAM volunteers, I spent the day lending a hand to 19 local schools and colleges, who were digging, planting, painting, sawing, drilling and shifting tonnes of earth, all to create spectacular show gardens that the students had designed themselves!

Led by Phil Eves, BAM’s Education and Community Coordinator in the Midlands,19 schools and colleges from across the Midlands worked with BAM to design and create show gardens themed on ‘Great Moments in History’. Professionally judged and viewed by 90,000 visitors of the festival over four days (including Princess Anne), the gardens earned 9 Highly Commended, 9 Commended and 1 Merit award. But besides growing spring flowers, Malvern has grown a lot more besides.  It is a great example of how business can work alongside schools for mutual benefit.

In recent years engagement between businesses and schools has increased in the UK, with 8 in 10 businesses having links of some kind to one or more schools (CBI/Pearson education and skills survey 2013).  Schools believe that employer engagement enhances attainment, motivation and makes students more informed about career choices (CfBT Education Trust: Employer Engagement in Education, 2014). The trick here though is to make sure that engagement produces positive outcomes and is meaningful and worthwhile to students and business alike.  Our work at Malvern does this in spades (excuse the pun!).

Over 8 years, BAM has worked directly with 44 schools to create the show gardens. Nearly half of these schools have either been BAM-built or a BAM neighbour. Hundreds of young people have worked on the gardens, doing practical work outside of the classroom, seeing their designs come to life and then talking about their gardens to the judges and show visitors, which boosts their confidence whilst learning.

As Phil Eves puts it: ‘One young lad from Tudor Grange School was really reserved and introverted at school but as he became more involved with the garden he really came out of his shell, and by the end of the project he confidently and knowledgably chatted to Princess Anne about the garden he’d been part of creating!  This story is typical of a lot of students I’ve worked with – Malvern really makes them shine because it’s not a classroom and they don’t realise they’re learning but they really are. #learningbystealth is what I call it!’

Creating the gardens directly supports their curriculum. Students find a way to engage with the practical and creative elements that sometimes eludes them during mainstream school.  For example producing a garden plan with set dimensions and budget restrictions is applied maths. Designing and building the garden is a hands-on design and technology assignment, and the biodiversity of gardens, including choosing plants and how to care for them, relates to environmental geography. Over 70 young people have completed their work experience at the Festival, helping them to gain a BTEC qualification in Construction.

One of the teachers of the BAM-built Q3 Academy, Annette Ledington, sums it up best: “Can I say a big thank you for the work BAM has done with the students in order to produce their wonderful garden. Whenever students achieve something out of the ordinary it is a fulfilling moment for everyone involved. The confidence it will have given the students is undeniable and something you cannot buy from a shop!”

It’s also an excellent project for apprentice and trainees to get involved in. 22 BAM trainees/graduates have used Malvern to complete elements of their CPD and five BAM apprentices have been recruited through their involvement at Malvern.

Most innovative reuse of recycled materials in a garden!

And benefits of the event are also felt by our staff. 74 BAM staff have volunteered their time over the years, and 90% would volunteer again, siting improved teamwork and working with different colleagues as real benefits they gained.

What Malvern does best though is produce individual stories of achievement, from making local students feel included, to motivating staff, and giving recognition from the Prince’s Trust, Business In The Community (BITC) and Asdan awards. Well done to all involved and see you next year!



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