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Malvern Spring Festival...growing more than just gardens

Phil Eves 04 May 2016

The Malvern Spring Festival lasts four days every year, but for me and several schools across the three counties of Hereford, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire, it all begins several months earlier.

In 2007 I came up with the idea of schools designing and building gardens in competition with each other, so I asked the show's organisers if we could display them there. In the first year two schools took part (both from Bromsgrove where BAM was building four new schools) and since then it has grown (excuse the pun) to a peak of 14 schools in 2014, with 11 schools taking part this year. Since it first started over 100 schools have entered the challenge, we have engaged with thousands of young people and hundreds of volunteers have taken time out to become involved - from schools, colleges, community groups as well as volunteers from BAM.

BAM volunteers working on this year's gardens

We have been involved with the event for a decade and for us the event has been about its intrinsic value in creating an interest among young people in what we do and how it is done, getting children into more than just gardening. Each year I always have a theme for the gardens to double the educational value. Past themes have included Remembrance Day and sustainability (that's always a criteria for prize giving day) and this year the theme is Shakespeare to encourage an interest in literacy. We've had the Madcap Theatre Company doing workshops to help advise about that.

But these gardens are not just for show – they are always a thorough business! I make each school assess their methods, designs and buildability. The whole design process is heavily linked with art, design and technology. Students also have to research costs and work to a budget, which supports maths while each school designs the advertising for their garden developing literacy and ICT skills. Risk assessments must be carried out and I host workshops and assess their programmes. We've given the children access to gardeners including the likes of ex-Blue Peter gardener Chris Collins! Throughout the whole process they have to research, solve problems and plan.

Children enjoying the show with Phil Eves (second from left, back row)

During the garden building process BAM volunteers have always been on hand to help to create the gardens and we have even reused some materials from our sites. We use metal detectors to check for things underground, older children do the hard landscaping and younger children do the painting and digging. However their ultimate test -like any construction project - is delivering the garden onsite and on time!

Just one of the completed gardens

The standard of entries can be phenomenal and the lengths to which the schools and colleges go to is extraordinary. One of our gardens (the Henri le worm community garden) was even re-assembled and used at the Hampton Court Flower Show. The results from the whole process has been amazing and we have seen some of these young people go into design and construction careers. Take Abbey Breen; she continued her construction studies before starting a degree in Archaeology at Worcester University. Young students Ed Mansell, Tom Nock, Liam Dyer and Karl Stokes were taken on as apprentice bricklayers and Dominic Pinfield was taken on as an apprentice carpenter. Matthew Dillon was taken on by our sister company BAM Nuttall as an apprentice civil engineer.

The Malvern Spring Festival is just been one small part of what I do each year, I spend all year working with schools, colleges and educational facilities but in other guises. I show children onto construction sites, revealing the hidden world we occupy so they can learn from it. It’s lovely to see the fascination these visits create. I've also helped show students how engineers use maths in construction, worked with kids on a health and safety play which involved them building their own props and scenery all going towards their BTEC drama qualifications, and had hundreds of kids through my carpentry and bricklaying workshops.

Engineering students visits one of our sites

For me, the best learning is not done at a desk. We learn best by trying things and teaching ourselves. And that's not just for children. I spent several years finding industrial placements for teachers to help them understand this too, showing them how we treat water or make milk, run dairies or ambulance services. Showing, not telling, goes in best.

BAM’s been blessed and continues to build and create schools, university buildings and colleges across the country, such as our current schools schemes in Daventry, Rutland and Solihull, and our university schemes in Birmingham and Coventry. We see all these projects as an opportunity to reach out to schools, colleges and universities and I invite everyone to use our work to help your curriculums.


Phil Eves is an Education and Skills Coordinator at BAM

If you would like to find out how you could get involved, contact us



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