Transforming tarmac playground into biodiverse outdoor classroom

Transforming tarmac playground into biodiverse outdoor classroom
Emma Rowley
6 March 2023
In May, we’ll be taking our mission to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show with a special garden that celebrates children’s access to nature. The Beacon CE Primary is one of two schools that the garden will be relocated to once the Show is over, ensuring it lives on as a fantastic learning resource.

The Beacon CE Primary School took part in our Young Marketeers programme in Liverpool last year. Dozens of children helped grow a variety of fruit and veg in the school playground before harvesting and selling their produce at a nearby market, raising money for FareShare Merseyside.

The school is now keen to build on this enthusiasm by giving more children the opportunity to learn about and enjoy nature. Emma Rowley, Deputy Headteacher and Early Years Lead at The Beacon, tells us how the Chelsea Garden arriving at her school will help make that a reality.

How did you get started with growing at school?

We have a range of Pupil Leadership Teams (student-led committees) for children in Year 3 and up. I lead the Eco Committee. We always ask the children to decide the projects they want to work on. So, we’ve previously done things like recycling clothes and Walk to School Week. Last year, the children decided they wanted to develop a garden, and possibly do some food growing. That’s when we got involved with the Young Marketeers programme.

The Eco Committee set up two mini outdoor growing areas outside the early years centre. We planted onions, spring onions, carrots, beetroot, tomatoes, strawberries and Chinese cucumbers, growing lots of it in repurposed plastic milk bottles.

  • Children from The Beacon selling produce on market day
    Children from The Beacon selling produce on market day
  • Children from The Beacon selling produce on market day
    Children from The Beacon selling produce on market day

What impact did all of this have on the children?

I think growing their own food has made the children think more about where food comes from. Actually planting a seed, seeing it grow, and harvesting it really puts things into perspective. When we pulled up the onions, some of the children were quite shocked. They were like ‘oh we never expected to see this at the end of it all’.

And once they’ve grown something themselves, they’re more likely to try it as well. One of the boys doesn’t like vegetables or anything green but he just said to me, 'if we grow apples, we can eat them at playtime and cook the food in the dinner hall'. It might not seem like a lot, but coming from him, it was great to hear. 

The families got involved as well. Some of the parents came to the Sale Day and bought produce. One family ended up buying the tomato plant because the child loved growing it, and they wanted to carry that on at home. It was also great seeing the children interacting with the customers. Some of them are usually so shy but seeing them shouting 'who wants to buy fruit and veg' was amazing!

There are just so many benefits to spending time around nature. We've got a couple of children who just need that brain break, and sometimes they would see me in the garden and offer to help me with the watering. It’s also the fact that it’s quite hands-on, which can be a welcome change from sitting in lessons all day.

What difference will the Chelsea Garden make to your school?

When the garden is set up, it will be in the area for two to three-year-olds, but we have a gateway, so the whole school can use it as well.

We’re going to carry on growing this year. We want even more children from across the school to get involved with this. We’re going to use some of the food we grow in our kitchen and donate the rest to a local food bank. It’s also about spending more time outdoors and bringing lessons to life, so if they’re learning about minibeasts in Science, it’s not just from a textbook, we can go out into a live lab.

We haven't got a lot of green space at our school. So, increasing that biodiversity across the school is something that we've been trying to work on. Having a real-life garden will really clinch that.

  • Proposed site for SFM Garden relocation
    Proposed site for SFM Garden relocation
  • Space for growing
    Space for growing
  • Playground seating area
    Playground seating area