Tipton produce Photo: courtesy Fiona Carnie
CURRICULAR CORRECTNESS An academy school in Tipton is going green
Given the deteriorating state of the planet, it is incumbent on all of us to find ways to live more sustainably. Schools are an important part of the equation. At the most basic level, with around 20,000 schools in England alone, educational buildings use a huge amount of energy. But schools’ responsibilities go much deeper than merely reducing their energy consumption. Schools are at the heart of their communities, and where they take on board the environmental challenge they can be a catalyst for whole-community change.
It is therefore no longer acceptable for schools to view this agenda as an optional extra: there is a responsibility for schools and other learning institutions to seize the initiative and ensure that through their buildings, their catering provision, their curricula, their travel and their purchasing policies they work in ways that are overtly sustainable.
It is Friday morning at the RSA Academy, a state school in Tipton in the West Midlands, and a group of students are out tending the allotments, whilst others are checking up on the progress of the recently planted wild-flower meadow and doing a tour of the habitats that have been created. Another group is investigating student eating habits and considering how students can be encouraged to eat more healthily. Vegetable waste from the catering department is being transported to the allotments, and work is being carried out in the rooftop greenhouse. A group of disaffected boys are constructing a shed for
Schools are at the hear t of their communities keeping tools safe. No one has seen them so engaged and purposeful before. Ever.
The academy is working hard to introduce environmental concerns into the lives of students and the local community. The scale of the challenge is, however, immense. Tipton is an area of social deprivation where unemployment is high, aspirations are low, and problems within communities
Januar y/Februar y 2012 are rife. When this is combined with the ugliness of the post-industrial urban landscape and the total absence of beautiful or inspiring places, it is not difficult to see why environmental issues are not at the top of most people’s agendas in this region. Against this unpromising backdrop however, the academy, which is only three years old, is beginning to turn the tide and foster in young people a real concern for their world.
The students themselves created the allotments in the academy grounds, and growing numbers are taking part in weekly Grow Your Own sessions, producing a range of vegetables for the kitchen. The next step is to set up community allotments, where local people can come and relearn old skills; and plans are afoot to set up a market to sell produce grown or baked at the academy and also to encourage the community to sell their own produce. A community orchard is being established and the first apple trees – a range of heritage varieties – have been planted. Local primary schoolchildren visit regularly and are helping to maintain an area of the academy grounds.
The Environmental Action Group has written an Eco-Code, which has been shared across the academy community. Students lead assemblies encouraging their peers to take action and make a difference, and the curriculum is being reviewed to identify opportunities for integrating environmental issues. Green Week takes place each July, and everyone at the academy, staff and students alike, is challenged to make an environmental pledge. All teaching staff are encouraged to think about how they can focus on green issues in their lessons, and an audit of the entire curriculum is being carried out to ensure that environmental issues are integrated. Energy use is monitored closely and opportunities for developing green technologies are being explored. A comprehensive recycling system is in place. Students are encouraged to walk or cycle to school, and over 80% do so. Staff are encouraged to car share where possible.
All this is just a beginning, but it demonstrates a very real commitment to creating an environmentally sustainable learning community.
With thanks to Fiona Carnie, Director of Partnerships at the RSA Academy. www.rsaacademy.net
STARS OF SUSTAINABILITY Green careers charity celebrates 15 years of success After graduating from university, many eco-activist fledglings struggle to find a career that will nurture their values, talents and commitment to help create a better world. There is a shortage of employers who are willing to risk investing in someone who on paper may lack what they deem to be ‘real-world’ career experience, and this, coupled with limited budgets for sustainable development within organisations, means that many graduates end up accepting work that is contrary to their values.
of the Green Party, David Murray, who, thanks to Change Agents, achieved his meteoric rise within the organisation in just six years, and Sheridan Chilvers, who mentors new British Council Climate Champions in developing environmental projects and whose work has been acclaimed by Prince Charles, featured on MTV and promoted at international climate-change conferences.
To solve this problem, in 1996, with extraordinary foresight two UK-based luminary thinkers in environmental education, Stephen Marten and Adam Cade, decided to bridge this gap by setting up an organisation to help graduates get a foot on the sustainability career ladder. Fifteen years later, the organisation, Change Agents, has just celebrated placing 1,000 graduates into work, and to mark this occasion it has presented Stars of Sustainability awards to some of its successful placements. These include the 29-year-old Chief Executive
Every generation gives birth to a sub-population of what lifelong environmental campaigner Sara Parkin calls ‘positive deviants’ – people whose ethical conscience means that they must ‘walk their talk’ despite being surrounded by flawed institutional structures and values. Change Agents matches these positive deviants with visionary businesses that see ethics as an asset to be nurtured rather subjugated. With 20% of 16- to 24-year-olds out of work, the need for the kind of support offered by Change Agents has never been greater.
With thanks to Ian Tennant for this article. www.changeagents.org.uk
A LITTLE PATCH OF GROUND Encountering the theatrics of growing food
Now in its third year, A Little Patch of Ground is a successful intergenerational food-growing and performance project led by the arts group Encounters. Devised to respond creatively to the challenges of climate change and bring people together across age, culture and social background, it is both a powerful and a dynamic vehicle through which new skills are developed, diverse relationships built and new ways of seeing and thinking about the world seeded.
In 2011, two ‘little patches of ground’ were twinned: an urban patch atToynbee Studios in the East End of London, and a rural patch on the Dartington Estate in Devon. Participants, aged from eight to 82, met weekly from April to October to grow a permacultureinspired vegetable garden and eat together, exploring ideas about food, climate change, interdependence and our relationship with the natural world through storytelling, writing, drawing and photography.
These threads were woven together into a performance at the end of the project that told an intimate and very human tale about what it is like to live at this time of ecological challenge and opportunity. “A Little Patch of Ground has given me a far better understanding of people, community and the truth people find in Nature,” said Oscar, a 16-year-old participant of the Devon group.
Encounters offers imaginative spaces and processes for people to explore their relationship with themselves and each other, where they live and the wider natural world, through the medium of participatory arts projects and interventions that inspire creativity, dialogue and exchange between people of all ages and cultures.
With thanks to Ruth Ben-Tovim, Encounters for this article. www.encounters-arts.org.uk
Lorna Howarth is Development Director of Artists Project Earth (www.apeuk.org)