Growing Enterprises at Ryton Organic Gardens

The Growing Enterprise project was established by Garden Organic at Ryton Organic Gardens in September 2013. The project provides opportunities for young people with Special Educational Needs (SEN) and/or challenging behaviour to learn about organic gardening and making horticultural related products for sale within a small enterprise.

Students from local schools and colleges take part in one two hour session each week, often for a whole term. Groups come to the project from two pupil referral units (Arc School and Woodfield School), two special schools (Brooke School and Baginton Fields School) and two further education colleges who specialise in special needs education (Hereward College and Henley College).

To date 106 students have benefitted, 76 of whom have completed a full programme of sessions and completed evaluations. The schools and colleges have made arrangements for 51 students to continue to attend (or are currently attending) for longer than the initial 6 week block as they can see the positive benefits the project is having on their pupils.

Skills for life
Students develop social skills, build self-esteem and learn about running a small business while enjoying the gardens and learning about organic food growing. The young people are learning entrepreneurial skills in a real life context; designing and making, or growing produce to sell to customers in a public setting. Evaluation from the first year has shown huge benefits to young people;

  • All of the students have developed their knowledge of organic horticulture
  • 99% report pride in the work they had completed.
  • 93% of students said that they have a better understanding of what good customer service is.

All of the students have gained experience in making decisions, working with others, growing organic food and making organic garden related products, and selling their produce to real customers. The work that students complete during the sessions has also helped to support them in achieving a range of qualifications which they are working on with their school or college, such as OCN, City and Guilds and ASDAN courses.

Learning through nature
For some of the groups, working with the Growing Enterprise Project is the only outdoor learning that they regularly access in the week. For Arc School, a pupil referral unit with tarmacked grounds and no accessible green spaces, it is the only time of the week that they come into contact with nature and the natural environment in a learning context. Being part of the project gives the group time to unwind and enjoy the therapeutic benefits of open spaces and gardening.

Many students attending the project use the skills and workplace style experience to support the achievement of outcomes in skills for working life qualifications. This learning and experience will open up opportunities for future career development and will be a valuable intermediate step between school and employment.

Learning environment and expertise
Students are taught on the project in small groups of up to 8, but often less, which ensures that individual needs can be addressed and barriers to learning broken down. They have the support of a qualified horticultural therapist and experienced volunteers. Many accompanying school staff have remarked on the relaxing atmosphere in the gardens and the calming influence that this has on the young people. Working in the organic gardens is the ideal environment for the students to learn about healthy lifestyles in both physical exercise and sustainable food production.

Benefits to the natural and built environment
As a result of taking part in the sessions students have been helping to manage an area of the display gardens at Ryton Organic Gardens which is open to the public. They have been learning about gardening for wildlife and ensuring that they are attracting beneficial creatures by building habitats, planting nectar rich flowers and encouraging biodiversity. The groups have revitalised this area of the gardens into an informative and inspiring growing space.

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