Beyond The Great Outdoors

by Maggi Muir, Skelmorlie Primary School

The beginning...

A few years ago we started our whole idea off through a successful Awards for All Lottery Grant. This allowed us to design a wildlife area, establish a quiet space and obtain a few raised beds. This project was called The Great Outdoors. This was the spark that ignited the next project. Our school, supported by our Parent Council, decided to ask pupils, staff and parents what we could do to develop our huge expanse of outdoor space. Many things came out of this - better play facilities, outdoor musical area, performance area, shelters, more containers for growing our own produce and a climbing wall. We all agreed to tackle the raised beds first so another lottery bid was placed and was again successful. It was called 'Beyond the Great Outdoors'.

Involving our community...

This allowed us to develop a fairly large area which was made wheelchair-friendly for our 21 new raised beds, our poly tunnel and our greenhouse. Year one of growing was the summer of 2013. We returned, after our summer holidays, to a bumper harvest of peas, pumpkins, cauliflowers, cabbages, potatoes,courgettes, marrows and carrots. It was astonishing. We had been very fortunate to have had a team of parent / carers in over the summer break watering our crops. As the summer progressed they realised that some of the crops had to be used there and then, so asked the teacher in charge of the project to approach our one local shop to sell our produce. They were more than happy to do so and did not take any money for offering this service. At the end of summer we had sold about £150 worth of crops.

Due to the number of raised beds we had, we decided to rent beds to our local community at a cost of £25 for each year. This was an inspired idea as beds were rented by the local Brownies, Parent and Toddlers, Playgroup and private individuals. At the same time this gave us access to funds to purchase other equipment.

As part of the project we regularly hold Garden Tidy Up days where families all come to the school and we do general maintenance of the grounds, planting hedgerows etc. These days are a great success, looked forward to by staff, pupils and parents and extended family members.

By summer 2014, with the help of RBS, we had built a beautiful garden area in memory of our janitor who died in service. Our Enterprise Community Group decided there was a need to mark the service our janitor had given to our school. They decided to create a garden area. Every year we enjoy the support of RBS staff when they come and help tidy up our school grounds. When they heard what the children were planning to do, they asked if they could meet with the children to find out what were their plans. The children gave a presentation which so impressed the RBS team, they offered to fund the whole project and supply the labour. In June 2014 the garden was formally declared open by our janitor's family. It is a beautiful area and has proved to be a favoured spot by many children during intervals.

Fuelled by this success, we then planted an orchard which should begin to produce fruit by summer 2015.

Being a Food for Life Pathfinder school...

2014 again produced superb crops but we came to realise that we, in school. never really tasted the fruits of our labour. One of our stunning but surprising crops was maize, which was a complete experiment but hugely successful. We did taste that crop as it was prepared for us for one of our lunch times. Being a Pathfinder school for Food for Life Scotland has given us the time to look at what we were doing and reflect on our practice. We produced an action plan which should result in salad crops being ready before the summer holidays so we can eat them. We have agreed a planting plan for our raised beds so that in autumn 2015 we will be able to produce chutneys supported by a very interested group of parents; food that we can sell to North Ayrshire for their school kitchens allowing us to taste some of the produce. The thing we are really very keen to do is to start cooking meals for ourselves using some of our ingredients. This is causing us a little bit of a problem at the moment as we no longer have a functioning school kitchen as our meals are produced on other premises. Thus getting access to a school cook is a challenge.

The future...

Our project continues. We now have a climbing wall and a musical area but need now to address the play facilities. As for Beyond the Great Outdoors, we are planting an area of soft fruit bushes in spring 2015 and planning to make better use of our poly tunnel and greenhouse. That may be our next growing project as we would really like a better greenhouse.

It has been a journey, but a very well supported journey from all involved. We have one very keen parent who has taken over the management of the project freeing us up to do other things.

We now wait to see how 2015 grows for us.

None of this could have been achieved without the support of our parents / carers, grants and RBS.


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