Forty students aged 11 to 15 from Rivers Academy, West London, have been putting their gardening skills to use as part of a community initiative, under the supervision of teacher Sian Llewelyn and the school’s SEND team.

The project ‘Grow for the Future,’ aims to turn unused and unloved land across the borough into new allotment sites, community gardens and orchards where Hounslow residents can grow their own food. With the support of Councillor Salman Shaheen, Hounslow Council’s Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure & Public Spaces, the Rivers students have been working to transform scrubland in Feltham.

Since January the students have been learning gardening skills from Cultivate London, the social enterprise whose mission is to encourage local people to engage with green spaces. Earlier in the year the group planted fruit trees and have been monitoring their progress.

Assistant Principal, Tim Wormald commented, “In April, Sally from Cultivate London came to Rivers to teach us all about planting. The students then planted some sunflowers which they have been carefully nurturing at school over the past few weeks. We spent a day last week planting them out and we’re all very excited to see them brighten up the rather dull fence they are planted against!”

The planting day at the plot in Westmacott Drive was made extra special by the arrival of actor Jim Carter, who played Mr Carson in Downton Abbey. Jim is a passionate advocate of horticulture for young people and wants to see gardening put on to the national curriculum:
“Getting gardening onto the curriculum would have huge benefits for mental health for the kids, for their education, for the planet and for the NHS,” he said. “There is a perfect opportunity for a new government to bring gardening into children’s lives.”

Year 9 gardener Riley Newman enjoyed the day, commenting, “I love gardening. This is a new thing for me and I find it fun. It’s calming and I love nature.”

Excited to have the help of a celebrity and armed with new skills, the youngsters have been inspired to start a gardening club back at Rivers and have some money to buy some tools and a small greenhouse.
“The children are going to be rejuvenating an overgrown garden at the back of one of the buildings and growing some vegetables, working with some of the local council staff who’ve offered to give up time for free,” adds Tim. “We are really grateful to Hounslow Council and Cultivate London for all their support; this project has been a wonderful experience for the children and really demonstrates the academy’s values of self-worth, purpose and engagement in action. Together we have turned an area of the community that otherwise was a bit of an eyesore into a beautiful space that the children are rightly proud of.”

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