“We agree to try and be, cool, kind, caring and cooperative.” – Langford Community Orchard Junior Volunteers
At Langford Community Orchard in Bicester, 2017 was an exciting year. A new dedicated children’s group was started. Susan Hall, the project’s lead volunteer for children, told us all about it. There’s lots to learn from this brilliant project. Read Susan’s report below:
It was decided last year that a dedicated children’s group (Junior Orchard Volunteers) was necessary for Health and Safety reasons and also because their needs are overlapping but different from those of the Adult volunteers.
We worked closely with Alice Hemming at The CAG Project to ensure compliance with the requirements for risk assessments, which is necessary for insurance purposes. This meant that before we could set up the group, a number of adults were given enhanced disclosure and barring service (DBS) checks and attended a Child Protection training day at Kidlington.
The equipment needed for the children required some thought, for example we bought border spades and forks that were easier for children to use. We chose lightweight rakes, plenty of trowels and gardening gloves because primary school age children do not have the patience to wait before they can ‘have a go’ and would be discouraged. The children have their own First Aid Kit and we always carry antiseptic hand-gel to use before their drink and snack.
All children joining the group are visited at home with their parents/carers who must sign a consent form. At this time, we tell the child that there is a standard of behaviour that is expected and it is usual to remind ourselves of this before each session by saying:
“We agree to try and be, cool, kind, caring and cooperative.”
At the end of each session, a trophy is awarded to the child who has demonstrated these values. The trophy is a little resin-mouse garden-ornament that the children named Lucky Fred.
Eight sessions were run for children over the past season. The children operate alongside the adult volunteers for the first half of the session and Pam Roberts usually sets them a task such as raking the arrisings or marking over the faded numbers on the tree-trail. After a while, the children usually like to climb trees or play hide and seek. On one occasion, an old football was found in the undergrowth by one of the adults and a kick-about ensued.
After snack-time, the second part of the session takes place in the allotment. The adult allotmenteers have been very welcoming of the children and one couple built a plastic grow house for the children’s’ tomatoes. Another adult said how nice it was to hear the sound of children’s laughter as she was gardening.
Last year, the children planted raised beds/potagers (donated) with a mixture of edibles and pollinator-friendly flowers following the ethos of the architect that planted the community orchard. A bench and table were donated with a sturdy parasol which allows us to do simple art work in all weathers. For example, the children submitted drawings suitable for a Christmas card and the one that was chosen was put on the Community Orchard Facebook page and sent out to each of the families.
At the beginning of this session we always have a walk round the allotment to see what the other plot holders are doing. As the season progressed and the pumpkins began to swell, the children became increasingly more excited. Teaching the children about gardening is done in a relaxed and flexible way (this is not formal schooling). Last year, the children learnt that plants such as chives can be propagated by division or by sowing seeds. The children are taught to respect and value wildlife and they were thrilled to find a toad.
Obtaining formal feedback from the children was attempted and abandoned. However, it was noted that one lively boy was fascinated by seeds and it was very rewarding to hear from his mother that he had sprinkled Nigella seeds all round their garden which had germinated. Another boy tried to build a small raised planter in his front garden and put a petunia in it. One of the older girls originally expressed distaste about getting dirty – and during Apple Day it was pointed out to her that she did not look her best sitting on a bale of hay on a tractor-trailer. She replied that she “just had to because it’s fun!”. Another girl was thrilled to dig up the potatoes we had planted earlier in the year. All the children enjoyed doing this but strangely, they did not want to take any home. This year, the potatoes will be washed and bagged up because that is how the children see them in the supermarket. The cherry-tomatoes were a great success and were handed out in bags to the families as a method of outreach. All the children were awarded ‘Lucky Fred’ once and none of the children had to be excluded. The structure of the sessions is quite loose to enable the children to make their own contributions and just to have some good old- fashioned fun in these lovely outdoor spaces.
Apple Day was a great part of the children’s group. One of the older girls and her mother ran a ‘plant a crocus’ stall. The highlight of Apple Day for the children is always the short ride round the orchard on the farmer’s tractor-trailer when he comes to collect the bales of hay.
The Community Orchard and Allotment are marvellous facilities for children. Next year we hope to build on what we achieved this year, for example we have increased the number of raised beds. The tomato seeds have germinated in readiness for this season and the big project is to help the children understand the alchemical process involved with making compost. The first session in March has been planned and we intend to plant an apple tree (a Newton Wonder) and discuss bees/pollination.
Susan Hall ( lead volunteer for children)