This year we were tasked with the challenge of rejuvenating an unused garden area for a local primary school, in Aldridge near Walsall. The area at St Mary of the Angel’s Catholic Primary School was no longer used due to health and safety concerns in recent years. As a result, the garden had become overgrown and barren. A member of the school’s Parent Teachers Association (PTA) contacted Redrow regarding this, and so our project began.
We were introduced to the project in May earlier this year, where we discussed what the school really wanted. One of the main focuses was to have an area where the children could go and concentrate and improve their mental health. This was something that we are all very passionate about after we recently helped with Redrow’s Mental Health Campaign. Other items on the ‘wish list’ were an outdoor classroom area and somewhere for their gardening club to take control! The next stage for us was to contact the Head teacher to arrange a school visit, which we did on the day of the project launch. It was good to take a look around the garden at this early stage and get an insight from the head teacher as to what she was really passionate about. This also helped us put together the initial design and dates to carry out the project.
Following the project launch we were in constant communication with each other, with weekly conference calls, emails and the use of a shared drive to keep a ‘shopping list’. We delegated tasks amongst the team. These tasks included, the design, a build programme, an accountant (to manage the ‘shopping list’), marketing and social media promotion, health & safety (i.e. RAMS) and of course communications with the school.
One of the biggest tasks which we needed to sort out prior to the project was the pond itself. We had to drain the pond and then back fill it with hardcore. This was not something any of the graduate team had the equipment, nor knowledge to undertake by themselves. So we asked a local civil engineer; M&A Doocey, who drained the pond one week and then backfilled it the next, all free of charge – which was a great start!
Over the next 2 to 3 months’ worth of planning, we came to the conclusion it would be a shame for the children to not get involved in some way. So in June, we visited the school, to get the children involved in tasks to help improve their garden. These tasks included the painting of the bike shelter and creating wind chimes for the sensory area of the garden. Also they had a short visit from Buster and Buddy; Redrow’s Health & Safety Mascots.
On the 22nd July we started our community project and people always say ‘the first day is the hardest’, however, we got an awful lot done in just one day. Firstly we asked a local landscaping contractor (BC Landscape Contractors) to remove the green metal fencing, which was acting as the barrier stopping the children from enjoying the garden. Once this fencing was removed, the space felt so much more open. We also removed a whole load of trees and bushes, which filled up two large skips! Below is a photo of the panoramic image of the end of the first day.
Due to the hot weather, day 2 was definitely the hardest as it made a lot of the jobs very difficult. Sun hats, sunglasses and lots of sun cream were definitely required. We cut the grass down using a strimmer and rotivated the ground which needed levelling out. Meanwhile another landscaping contractor; TCL Group, installed the new trellis fencing. This was chosen so that the garden would have some sort of barrier, but one that still allowed you to see into the garden. On this day we continued to remove tree stumps and vegetation around the garden in preparation for marking out the new areas.
This is when we started the fun stuff! We marked out the paths with spray paint based on the design. With a little extra help from one of the Midland’s apprentices, we started digging trenches into the ground for the timber sleepers which would create the edging for the gravel paths and the different areas of the garden. Once these sleepers were level we started to install the weed proof membrane and then lay the gravel on top. We also started to create the ‘outdoor classroom’, reusing the benches already in the garden and repainting them. This area was then laid with bark mulch. The external contractors also completed the trellis fencing on this day and as they finished this earlier than expected (and we were pushed for time) they offered to erect the potting shed we had kindly donated.
This was definitely the longest day on site. 8am start, 7pm finish, in 30 degree heat. Another day for sun cream and lots of water breaks. We had a joiner apprentice on site creating a hexagonal bench to go around a tree which we kept in as part of what we’re calling the sensory area. Another joiner apprentice had created some large raised planters for us off site. So we had these picked up and delivered to site. These planters were huge, as per the design, so we had to fill them with a lot of top soil. By the end of the day we had finished the gravel path, laid bark mulch in the sensory area, more open space, a completed outdoor classroom, the tinkering table’s area and the gardening area (which had the raised planters). We erected and wood stained some ‘tinkering tables’ which are like small picnic tables. We also painted the exterior side of the bike shelter which had not been painted by the children due to the rain on the school engagement day.
With the deadline for the launch fast approaching (2pm), we were in a good position to complete on time. We finished off the sensory area, with the apprentices finishing the hexagonal bench (which went around the tree trunk) and put up the wind chimes the children had made on the school engagement day. We created a bug hotel, which was made from recycled pallets, bamboo and grass to attract wildlife. A head sculpture was installed in the garden which was made by a local artist. The planters were filled with topsoil and compost before we added the plants which we had donated too. Then at 2pm, all the children, parents, teachers, governors and PTA attended a launch event, where we cut the ribbon and Buster and Buddy made a second appearance. The feedback we got from Mrs O’Hara and the children was fantastic and the children really loved there new garden.
Following the project, I personally would like to say that it was great fun and I’ve learnt a lot from it. For those of you who are joining Redrow on the graduate scheme this year or planning on applying for future years I would say that, while it’s a lot of work, its good experience and the contractors and suppliers are a lot more generous than you expect, so don’t be afraid to ask! That said, on behalf of all the graduates I would like to say thank you to all our sponsors who have helped us make this project a huge success, thanks to the three apprentices who helped us on and off site, the Learning and Development team for their continued support, the PTA’s who came to visit us during the week and to Andy Leak; the school caretaker, who took great care of us throughout the week.