Horticulture Centre

Horticultural Instructor Lee Bestall reports on the story behind the creation of the Wingfield Horticultural Training Centre

Back in November 2006 I was invited to a meeting along with Michael Goldenburgh and the assistant head teacher Bryan Picton.  Working alongside Michael, I was given a brief to design an area where the students could grow a selection of vegetables.  Within an hour, we had more than doubled the size of the plot, and included a large fruit growing area.

After several weeks and much consultation with the local council, owners of the building, teaching staff and funding bodies, we finally presented the finished plans and applied for planning permission.  The site we are working on is a brown field space, which was the location of the old school.  Demolished in 2005 and turfed over, it had poor drainage and a very heavy compacted clay soil.  By April 2007, planning had been granted and we began the construction.  Over the Easter holidays, the large fences were erected by external contractors.  The top soil was removed for later use, and 250 linear metres of land drains were installed to help improve drainage on the site.

Green houseAfter a long 4 month wait, the students were finally to become involved in the creation of a brand new horticultural training centre.  The first task was to plant a 130 metre long native hedge around the gardens perimeter.  This was to encourage wildlife and pollinating insects to an area of land which was previously devoid of life.  As it grows and develops, the hedge will also act as a wind barrier to protect the crops and fruiting blossom.  The foundations for the polytunnel and green houses were the first major construction job, and this was completed mainly by the students studying construction.  Due to health and safety restrictions, specialist companies were brought in to skin and glaze the structures.

Next to be installed were the compost heaps.  Due to the heavy soil, our need to produce large quantities of compost meant we had to think big.  Our 4 compost heaps hold up to 16 cubic metres at any one time, meaning we can produce a massive 48 cubic metres of compost every single year.  It was at this point we installed our underground water storage tanks.  Rainwater from the school roof is collected in two 1000 litre plastic tanks which had been donated by a local company.  The rain water is diverted from the down pipe and under the playground to the tanks which are located adjacent to the site.  This area will be re-developed shortly and will form part of our wild flower meadow.  The rain water can be pumped into the garden to water crops or the plants in our nursery.

At the same time we were constructing this site, we were also building and planting an ornamental flower garden.  This is located in the centre of the yard, and we practice turf management and ornamental plant care, including holding our living plan library.  Upon the completion of phase one in September 2007, we had a special open day where the Lord Mayor of Rotherham officially opened phase one.  We wasted no time in beginning the soil preparation for phase two, which saw the development of our fruit cages, vegetable beds, mini orchard and a variety of top fruit, which will be trained using traditional Victorian techniques.

Plants growingOver the summer of 2007, we produced our first fruit and vegetable crops, held a series of plant sales and sold fresh, organic produce to teachers and parents.  Our learning experience is not just restricted to the academy grounds, and our excursions have taken us to local parks, botanical gardens, community gardens and into related local businesses.

Our aim is to consider the centre as the horticultural hub of our academy.  We try and take a holistic approach to sustainability both inside and outside the academy grounds.  Projects have included the creation of an ornamental garden for the students to use, planted arrangements for presentations, creating links with our environmental action group, keeping the external grounds tidy and ensuring our compost heaps never go hungry

So, from sowing the seeds and harvesting the crops, to preparing the food, and enjoying the results, we believe it's important to know where your food comes from, and to ensure it is sustainably produced.

We are currently working on several new projects, and in the next few years will be developing even stronger links between other schools and the community, implementing even more energy saving schemes, planting a mini wood and nature walk, and creating a bio diverse wetland area.