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Volunteering project plants the seeds for success

Posted: 07 June 2022

Students at West Nottinghamshire College have been transforming a barren piece of land at their Derby Road-based campus while learning new skills for the future.

A national social enterprise has enabled students to build their own garden which will be equipped for both disabled and able-bodied learners to grow their own fruit, vegetables, flowers and herbs.

Since February 2022, community interest company Volunteer it Yourself (VIY) has been supporting young people with work experience opportunities while helping to regenerate 26 spaces throughout Nottinghamshire, funded by the UK Community Renewal Fund in partnership with Nottinghamshire County Council. It aims to support people and communities most in need across the UK, focused in three Government priority areas across the county. Projects have included a makeover of Mansfield’s Old Library earlier this month, which saw the college’s painting and decorating students spend some time volunteering as part of their work placement hours.

VIY offers young people – mainly those ‘disengaged or excluded from mainstream education and training, at risk of disengagement, and/or unemployed’ – opportunities to learn trade skills while helping to fix community spaces and places in need of improvement.

The foundation studies team was keen to turn an unused grassy space which sits between the college’s restaurant area and the animal care unit, into a kitchen garden which would both nurture the students’ horticultural and environmental skills as well as grow produce for the restaurant’s kitchens and the animals in the neighbouring unit.

A bid proposed to VIY to create raised growing beds and wider paved areas to enable students in wheelchairs to enjoy the same access to the garden as able-bodied students. This will enable them to put new skills into practice and to help broaden their knowledge on the food supply chain and environmental impact of food miles.

The bid was a success and over the last three weeks, VIY has worked tirelessly with the students to create the garden area, complete with a shed, composting bin, new wider pathways for wheelchair access and the raised beds set with new vegetables, herbs and flowers.

The project was supported by the Mansfield branch of VIY trade partner and national builders’ merchants, Travis Perkins, who provided wooden sleepers, paving slabs and a large potting shed to help turn the bare grassy area into a new garden space over a period of just three weeks. This was overseen by assistant branch manager Zoe Ruston, herself a former media production student at the college’s Derby Road campus.

More than 23 foundation studies students have spent practical lessons out in the garden throughout May, mentored and coached by VIY trade skills mentors, who have introduced them to a range of joinery, construction and painting skills. This has resulted in the group being awarded Entry Level 3 accreditations in construction and health and safety.

Level 3 joinery student William Walker from the college’s construction campus, took time out from his usual lessons to supervise the group throughout the project to enhance his skills, saying: “it’s been really rewarding helping this group, they’ve picked up so many skills and it’s been good to put my supervisory knowledge to great use too.”

Head of health, education and service industries, Helen Wilcockson, said: “We’re so incredibly fortunate to have been successful in securing this wonderful project support from VIY. The whole team has been patient and reassuring to our students, including them in every aspect of this garden transformation.

“I couldn’t be prouder of how well the students have worked, picking up great new talents and an Entry Level 3 qualification. I know we will have many years of rewarding activities resulting from having our own kitchen garden.”

Matt Mellor, who is VIY programme manager for the north, said: "We're so pleased to be able to offer these opportunities to students, the majority with special educational needs, here at West Notts College.

“It's been great to see so many students getting stuck in so enthusiastically into carpentry and painting, with the support of our Skills Mentors. We always find the greatest engagement and satisfaction from young people where they are volunteering to improve a space that they will use and benefit from, just like this community growing garden."

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