This summer, as part of the WEA’s new Green Curriculum, we have been doing practical courses in the never ending sunshine.
St. Mary’s Garden
At the Headland in Hartlepool, the most amazing ladies completely renovated an abandoned garden at St. Marys Church, and in the process learned about sustainability, made new friends, ‘had such a laugh’ and kick started a community hub. When I visited their garden opening day, there was a steady stream of local residents coming to see what they had done, enjoying the company, and the local beach clean volunteers even popped in for improptu tea and scones!
They told me how being involved in the gardening renovation course had made them more environmentally aware, with one now taking up composting at home, as she had learnt how easy it was, another became more aware of how much food she wasted on a weekly basis and so changed the way she shopped. The garden itself they made with donated and recycled goods, they didn’t throw anything in landfill and no peat compost was used. (A personal bugbear of mine!)
They praised the tutor Catherine Howell, saying her enthusiasm had inspired them and helped turn awareness about the environment into practice.
Meanwhile in North Shields, artist Helen Smith was leading weekly sessions in Northumberland Park, helping students develop their drawing and painting skills at the same time as enjoying the peace and calm that comes with spending time in green spaces. Research has shown that contact with nature and green space has a postive effect on our mental health. https://www.rspb.org.uk/globalassets/downloads/documents/positions/health/natural-thinking-report.pdf
The first part of each session was a guided walk by the park keeper, through a different part of the park each time, with explanations about the plants and wildlife and park heritage.
Students really enjoyed the sessions, and feedback included how taking part gave them the possibility to draw in the park, something that even though some were skilled painters, they wouldn’t have done on their own, either due to confidence, feeling secure or not being able to carry to the park the drawing boards and paints needed.
The tutor reported back that many parents stopped to talk to her in the park and would love to take part as well. So next year we plan to run a forest school creche in the park so parents can paint while their children play and learn about nature.
And finally, in Middlesbrough, at the TS3 Community Church local residents learnt about Bees and Beekeeping, ‘No Dig’ Gardening and Plants That Heal, again with tutor Catherine Howell. Students from this group came to the launch of St. Mary’s Garden, so starting to form a network of people who care about the environment and their community – watch this space for what comes next!