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Norfolk school celebrates allotment project that won its founder a national award

PUBLISHED: 08:40 02 October 2018 | UPDATED: 10:35 02 October 2018

From left, Georgia Kelsey, Lilly Dollman and Flo Edwards, all 16, pay a vist to the residents of the chicken coop at Reepham High School and College's Allotment Project. Picture: STUART ANDERSON

From left, Georgia Kelsey, Lilly Dollman and Flo Edwards, all 16, pay a vist to the residents of the chicken coop at Reepham High School and College's Allotment Project. Picture: STUART ANDERSON

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A couple of tyres salvaged from the side of north Norfolk’s country roads greet you as you make your way into the fruit and vegetable allotment at Reepham High School.

Reepham High School and College teacher Matthew Willer with students at the Allotment Project. Picture: STUART ANDERSONReepham High School and College teacher Matthew Willer with students at the Allotment Project. Picture: STUART ANDERSON

They’ve been put to good use as planters, packed with soil and greenery. It’s a nice touch that says a lot about the school’s sprawling Allotment Project, which has been developed by pupils, staff and community volunteers over the past couple of years, led by humanities teacher Matt Willer.

“Everything here is to set an example to young people about how you can live sustainably, and without harming the environment,” Mr Willer says.

“We’re showing young people how it is possible to lead an alternative lifestyle.”

And there are plenty of other surprises on the allotment site, which started to take shape on a disused part of the school’s playing fields in February 2015.

Toby Jacobs, left, and William Wickham, both 15, use the water pump at Reepham High School and College's Allotment Project. Picture: STUART ANDERSONToby Jacobs, left, and William Wickham, both 15, use the water pump at Reepham High School and College's Allotment Project. Picture: STUART ANDERSON

Tomatoes are grown in a polytunnel, there are raised beds for vegetables such as potatoes and leeks near a cage for fruit, and then there’s a roomy chicken coop that’s home a colony of rescued and donated foul.

Other features the pupils have helped to create include a rainwater catcher with a hand pump to move the liquid up to transportable butts and a brightly painted horse float that’s been converted into a small library.

“We don’t let anything go to waste,” Mr Willer says.

But the Allotment Project has evolved into something far more than merely somewhere to grow produce.

The chicken coop at Reepham High School and College's Allotment Project. Picture: STUART ANDERSONThe chicken coop at Reepham High School and College's Allotment Project. Picture: STUART ANDERSON

Pupils say it had become a place to relax and connect with nature - and each other - in a way they could never do in the classroom.

Year 10 student Robert Jackets, 14, says: “It’s something different for everybody where grades don’t matter, where you can do what you want at your own pace.

“Mr Willer listens and incorporates your ideas into the project.”

Year 12’s Lilly Dollman, 16, describes it as a “smiley place”.

Matt Willer, centre, inspects what's growing at Reepham High School and College's Allotment Project. Picture: STUART ANDERSONMatt Willer, centre, inspects what's growing at Reepham High School and College's Allotment Project. Picture: STUART ANDERSON

“It’s like a re-charger,” she says. “You come down here and feel your worries being lifted off you.

“It’s a happy place where everyone feels comfortable to go.”

Classmate Georgia Kelsey, 16, adds: “It’s teaching people how to care for the environment. It’s also really good for your mental well-being when we are going though stressful times with GCSEs and A Levels.”

The project has won widespread praise and has even caught the attention of one of the country’s most famous nature lovers - Prince Charles.

Reepham High School and College's Allotment Project makes use of unwanted items including a horse float, which has been converted into a library. Picture: STUART ANDERSONReepham High School and College's Allotment Project makes use of unwanted items including a horse float, which has been converted into a library. Picture: STUART ANDERSON

Earlier this year staff, parents and ex-students nominated Mr Willer for the Royal Horticultural Society’s School Garden Champion of the Year Award for his dedication to the Allotment Project.

He was named the winner of the national honour, and got to meet the prince at this year’s Sandringham Flower Show as a result.

Mr Willer says: “It’s very humbling that they did that and it has really helped the profile of the project.

“It was hard work in the beginning - giving up Saturdays for two years, but it has been absolutely worth it.

Robert Jackets, 14, digs in at Reepham High School and College's Allotment Project. Picture: STUART ANDERSONRobert Jackets, 14, digs in at Reepham High School and College's Allotment Project. Picture: STUART ANDERSON

“I refuse to accept that as a teacher I’m just here to help students pass their exams.”

Most of the food produced at the Allotment Project goes to the school’s kitchen, and what they don’t need they give to the farm shop in Reepham.

Some students have used working at the project towards the volunteering requirement of their Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, while others just enjoy coming down at lunchtime.

“It’s got more popular than I’d ever thought,” Mr Willer says.

“We even have to have a ‘green card’ system for the students to control the numbers.”

He says the project is continuing to grown, and a new ‘eco-classroom’ where teachers will be able to bring their students for a lesson with a difference, is currently being built.

There are also plans to build a second water catcher, and introduce more livestock, including goats.

Mr Willer says he wants to show other schools, particularly secondary schools, what is possible and encourage them to start their own allotment projects.

For more information about the project, email allotment@reephamhigh.com or visit www.reephamhigh.com/our-school/allotment-project .

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