Bringing a community closer together through planting trees

Posted by Joana Martinho Communications Officer, UK Poverty

23rd Feb 2012

Bringing a community closer together through planting trees

Oxfam and our partner Eadha Enterprises have been working on the Communities Branching Out project in Scotland, which links climate change prevention with community development. We have been working with primary schools in Renfrewshire to plant small woods, engaging the children with nature and boosting parental involvement. Sandra Macaskill, Oxfam's Community Assets Business Manager, went to a 'planting day' at Gallowhill primary school, in Paisley.

I visited the Gallowhill primary for the first time a few weeks ago, as was joined by Richard from Starling Learning, an organisation who is helping Eadha Enterprises delivering the project.

He explained to the kids what sort of trees they would be planting on the 'planting day'. We've planted quite a few different trees so far - birches, hazels, willows, as well as some fruit trees - but the project focuses mostly on aspen trees, which don't produce seed so are difficult to propagate, but have the capacity of decontaminating land that was damaged, for example, after being used for industrial purposes for a long time.

The kids were excited to be involved in the project and were motivated by the idea of doing something long term and meaningful for the school, their community and for the planet.

A couple of days before our return visit, Miss Fitzpatrick contacted us from Gallowhill primary. She had been inundated with requests from parents who wanted to get involved, and she was concerned about how the day would run with so many volunteers! Twenty-seven parents had been in touch, some willing to come for a part of the day and many more willing to stay all day. Miss Fitzpatrick was taken aback - this was the biggest response they had ever had, in terms of parental involvement with the school! In the past, the school has struggled to find ways to engage with parents and the wider community.

On the big day, we arrived at the school to be greeted by the kids, parents and teachers - despite it being a cold day everyone was motivated (and had wrapped up warm)! We split into three groups and cracked on. With forty-two people on the job, it wasn't long before our woodland started to take shape.

As the day went on and more parents came to help, the kids confidence grew and their personalities really shone through. One eight year old girl appointed herself as the "straightener upperer" and replanted and adjusted any squinty trees!

Another girl worked with her Gran all morning, who said she had pinched her husband's thermal vest for the day and was already thinking of what she could do with her granddaughter in her garden.

One boy who really stood out was nine-year old Brodie. He worked incredibly hard, full of enthusiasm, to the extent that he volunteered to stand guard by the trees at lunchtime to make sure none were damaged! Brodie is an outdoors kind of boy and seemed to be relishing the opportunity to really achieve something outside. He stayed on to help us load up the van - "hey Richard, have you got the keys for the van there and I'll load up these spades!" - and revealed himself as a really positive influence on everyone, bringing out the best in those people around him.

When I spoke to the head teacher I commended Brodie to her and said "We have been so impressed by him", commented the head teacher, who will soon put on a special achievement afternoon, and make sure Brodie is recognised.

Another pivotal character on the day was a parent called Sammy. He is a lifetime resident of Gallowhill and is self-employed. He brought his own equipment in and was keen to take responsibility for the woodland in the long term.

Parents said the children had really insisted that they come and take part - and parents acknowledged what a good experience it was to work together, with their children, for the benefit of their community.

That's the best thing about this project: the fantastic response from the parents, who are keen in growing things with their children, and want to be part of the school community. We have worked with 13 primaries in Renfrewshire already, and more schools are keen to jump on board and get their own wood!

Blog post written by Joana Martinho

Communications Officer, UK Poverty

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