A number of resources are available when funding school grounds improvements, explains Gill O’Donnell

There had been a growing interest in recent years in the role of environmental education and the importance of encouraging young people to be aware of their role in sustaining their local environment. Linked with this has been the need to encourage children to make the most of outdoor spaces for play and learning. Since 1990 the charity Learning Through Landscapes has been campaigning on behalf of children to improve school grounds. The charity believes that school grounds are essential to children’s learning and development, providing opportunities for healthy exercise, creative play, making friends, learning through doing and getting in touch with the natural world. Furthermore all children have the right to enjoy and benefit from well designed, well managed school grounds.

Over recent years there have been a number of very high-profile Learning Through Landscapes initiatives working with schools and communities. The current program team manages regional and national initiatives, seeking to develop and use the outdoor space in diverse and innovative ways and at present their best known program is the National School Grounds week. This is a week of focused activity and is open to all parts of the UK. Details of how to become involved in this project can be found at the Learning Through Landscapes website.

Equally popular, and with the potential to inject much-needed funds into your school, is the RBS-backed scheme called ‘Supergrounds’. This is a £6m community investment program delivered through Learning Through Landscapes that helps primary schools improve their school grounds. Over the scheduled six-year period 900 primary schools from around the UK will be given the opportunity to transform their existing school grounds into attractive and stimulating places where children can learn and play in safety. To be eligible for a Supergrounds award schools must be nominated by an RBS group employee. Schools that win a Supergrounds Award receive:

  • a Supergrounds Cash Award of £4,000
  • four days of a Supergrounds Project Advisor’s time. This specialist will help the school design and plan its Supergrounds and they will also provide face-to-face, email and telephone support and will be a point of contact for advice
  • a Supergrounds project guide and membership to the Supergrounds Learning Network. These include detailed support information relating to the program and the development of the individual project and unlimited access to a telephone, fax and email helpline
  • the Create your Playground Teacher & Pupil Pack – showing how you can use grounds improvement to help deliver the numeracy curriculum.

Schools will then have nine months to plan, develop and implement their projects, with work commencing in October and culminating in the following June/July. Further information on the program can be downloaded from their website. Following on from their successful pilot program, A Sense of Time and Place, Learning Through Landscapes is also working with secondary school communities, helping them to engage with their local heritage and discover what this might mean to young people. The program has a strong networking dimension, and will investigate the success that secondary schools have had with heritage education. Called ‘Hearts and Minds’, it is focused on four regions in England – the South West, North East, Yorkshire and Humberside and London and has been running for two years. Each of the regions has a part-time project worker to develop the projects in their region and to support each of the schools on the program. Each participating secondary school works on a school grounds-based heritage project for one academic year. The project can be carried out in any curriculum subject, but the project must be communicated throughout the whole school and its community, including celebrating the work that is produced during the year. By joining Learning Through Landscapes (a variety of different packages exist and it is best to study the website to find that which best suits your school’s needs) it is also possible to access specialist advice and support, resources and details of funding opportunities for greener school grounds projects.

Learning Through Landscapes is by no means the only organization working in the area of environmental education, although it is certainly one of the largest. A number of charities focus on assisting schools in developing this aspect of the curriculum, although there does seem to be a bias towards the primary phase. If you are planning a school garden project then it is worth investigating Alan Titchmarsh’s Gardens for Schools fund. This was established in 2001 to help primary schools with funding for garden and wildlife projects. The fund is entirely financed by Alan Titchmarsh and is administered by his wife and a team of volunteers. Since its inception it has helped 171 schools. In 2007 alone it helped 85 schools, each receiving a grant of up to £500. The details of the scheme for 2008 will be launched early in the year – in order to catch the best planting season. Details will be obtainable from the website.

More familiar will be the charity REEP (Religious Education and Environment Program). This aims to provide unusual and thought-provoking resources for teachers promoting the links between religion and the environment. It works with all faiths and is non-denominational. Central to its work is the REEP awards. These are open to schools in England, Scotland and Wales, regardless of age group or spiritual orientation. The task is to design a garden that reflects spiritual and community values and to submit the design using ICT. The website www.reep.org provides free resources to schools and the organization also holds training days to support entrants into the garden awards scheme. Awards are normally for £500, with the main overall prize of £1,000. A special REEP/ACE award is worth £3,000 and provides an artist to work with a school incorporating text into a garden. The categories for the competition vary slightly each year and are normally announced in the spring. The website does carry details of previous winners to act as inspiration to entrants.

The Transco Grassroots Environmental Action Scheme offers financial assistance for planned conservation and environmental projects and is open to secondary and middle schools. The work to be undertaken should protect, enhance or restore a natural feature or habitat or create a new environmental amenity.

However, when looking for sources for funding it is perhaps important to look beyond the idea of applying simply for cash. A number of schemes are available which will assist in community projects by providing goods. Probably the most widespread of these is run by B&Q. The company is very supportive of community-based work, particularly that which has an environmental aspect, and resources can be accessed via applications to two award schemes.

  • Better Neighbor Grant Scheme

This scheme operates as part of the store’s local community partners relationship and allows schools to apply to their local B&Q store for funding to get a community project up and running. It will provide between £50 to £500 (at retail cost) of B&Q materials, eg pond liners, plants, peat-free compost or paints. A key factor is that the project must be ecologically sustainable. For example, the materials and methods used should not cause environmental damage in the short or long-term. The final result should also have long-lasting benefit to the community. Better Neighbor Grants do not cover maintenance, so the project should be designed for easy care.

Since their inception in 1995 these have donated over £1m worth of goods to over 200 community groups across the UK and Ireland. In 2007 19 awards worth £5,000 were given to groups, with three projects receiving special awards of £2,500. The aim of the awards is to play a key part in helping local communities create inclusive and sustainable facilities to be proud of. The focus does shift slightly each year with 2007 concentrating on projects which looked at conservation and efficiency, eg designing a water-saving community garden. The awards are announced each January and details can be found on the website or via your nearest B&Q store. To be able to enter this scheme schools will need to partner up with local organizations to create a true community collaboration.

Beyond the B&Q schemes, the Community Foundation Network is also particularly useful for local sources of funding as it specializes in linking local donors with community projects. Its aim is to help their donor clients create lasting value from their local giving. The Community Foundation is not one charity but a network for targeting grants and managing funds donated by individuals and organizations. As such they have knowledge of a range of funding which is not always accessible through the usual sources. It is estimated that 94% of the population live in the area of benefit of a Community Foundation. To track down your nearest contact go to the Community Foundation website at www.communityfoundations.org.uk. In recent years the local foundations have included donations to a number of environmental schemes (details of which can all be found on the website). This fund would be especially appropriate for funding extended schools-type projects, especially where they are run in conjunction with the local community to meet specific needs in your locality. On a considerably smaller scale The Jenny Wood Environmental Trust supports school projects nationwide. This in the past has concentrated on issues such as tree planting, butterfly and sensory gardens. Its resources are limited and the charity is managed by Susan Wood. It is, however, an example of the number of small local charities which exist to aid such projects and it is therefore always useful to begin by looking at what is available within your own area. Your local voluntary action center should be able to put you in touch with relevant organizations in your locality, and may also perform electronic searches on your behalf.

There are also a number of other useful websites which can offer help and advice, access to resources and in some cases details of alternative sources of funding. The most obvious of these is Growing Schools. This is a government program which aims to encourage and inspire all schools to use the outdoor classroom as a context for learning and focuses in particular on food, farming and the countryside. It carries information on health and safety, published research, resource materials, places to visit and news and events. It also provides regular updates on funding sources and case studies on outdoor learning and school grounds development.

Other useful links which carry similar material are www.naturalengland.org.uk for information on education opportunities and resources and www.gardenorganic.org.uk. Garden Organic is the UK’s leading organic growing charity and has been at the forefront of the organic horticulture movement for 50 years. It is dedicated to researching and promoting organic gardening, farming and food. Of particular interest to teachers will be the link to the Duchy Originals site which provides information and advice tailored to school projects.

A further useful resource is the Royal Horticultural Society site.