Longstone Special School goes green!

Pupils from Longstone School Special School in Dundonald have been going green by creating a beautiful Community Garden within their school grounds which will act as an oasis for pupils and wildlife alike. As a Rights Respecting School this project is helping young people in the school along with the wider community get access to their rights, specifically the right to be taught to protect the environment and respect other people (Article 29).

This transformation has been made possible by the schools wonderful community of supporters who voted for them through the National Lottery’s People’s Project Fund.

The Community Garden is an internal school courtyard which was overgrown so the pupils were no longer able to use the space for outdoor lessons. The space now has raised beds, brightly coloured plant troughs, bird feeding stations, a sheltered seating area, a multitude of beautiful plants and if you look carefully a few fairy doors have appeared indicating some special visitors have now also taken up residence!

The Belfast Hills Partnership were contracted in to help with the Community Garden project and have involved the pupils in  planting up all the beds with a wide range of plants, perfect for pollinators and tickling the senses with their smells and textures. All the plants were purchased from Dundonald Nurseries, which is just down the road from Longstone School. The garden truly has been transformed from “messy and not that nice to be in” to a visual delight.

Mr Skarmoutsos, Principal of the school said “We wanted to create a safe environment in our Community Garden where the teachers can take the pupils outside to learn. We had also really hoped for a sensory element to the garden and the Belfast Hills Partnership really stepped up to this, providing plants and decoration which appeal to all the senses. We are so grateful of their involvement and expert advice”.

Every single pupil in the school had the opportunity to come out and plant their very own plant in the garden, from nursery to year 12. In total over 200 plants were planted in the courtyard garden, including a couple of peppers and tomatoes for the greenhouse. A number of nature themed mosaics were also created by the pupils. Towell House, Tor Bank and parents have also been coming to workshops and events.

“The planting day was a huge success and we are really pleased each pupil got to plant their very own plant. I can’t believe the transformation in the garden from the unappealing scrubby area it was to how special it looks now.” Stephanie Plunkett, teacher and Eco-Club leader

Lisa Critchley from the Belfast Hills Partnership said “I selected many of the plants for their sensory qualities for the pupils but also for pollinators like bees, butterflies and other insects. I hope this will help raise awareness of how important these insects are and the simple things we can do to help them. The garden is already proving successful in this respect as, even on the day they were planted, a bumble bee arrived and started feeding from the new plants, as if to prove a point!”

Once the garden was in full bloom and looking fabulous a big launch event was held to celebrate the garden’s creation. VIPs were invited and the ribbon was cut to officially open the Community Garden before the festivities began. Belfast Hills Partnership had arranged for a whole host of activities to occupy the whole school on the day. There were animals and birds to pet, bouncy castles and candy floss, nature games and bird feeder making. Everyone had a ball.

With the garden complete, it’s time for the pupils to get their boots on and join Belfast Hills Partnership up in the beautiful hills that dominate the northern skyline of Belfast. The pupils have already enjoyed a fun day at Divis Mountain where they played games and went for a walk along the Ridge Trail, taking in the views across Belfast and trying to spot their school in Dundonald! Next up is a visit to the iconic Cave Hill, followed by a treasure hunt and campfire on Slievenacloy, a beautiful nature reserve. To round off the 9 month long partnership with Belfast Hills Partnership and Longstone School, the school will visit Ligoniel Dams for a night-time bat walk.

The pupils really did Get Up and Go Green!!