It was a bright sunny, relatively warm Monday morning with bright yellow daffodils rising above the weeds to soak up the early March sun, when students and staff of Care First Management Services Limited’s, Skills Tank first arrived at Barr Beacon Lodge, an overgrown, run down and underused site.
The site, now shared with Care First’s Skills Tank by Walsall Council’s clean and green team, is part of a plan to realise the benefits of green spaces on the health and well-being of the local population.
The imagination fired up on that spring day with the arduous work beginning soon afterwards.
Fast forward a year.
“This is going to be our BBQ area in the summer,” Sam gestures towards a grassy patch, now nicely framed by a natural wooden fence, just one of many projects the students have been working on. Sam is one of the Learning Mentors at Care First, an organisation dedicated to improving the lives of adults 16+ with learning difficulties/disabilities and behaviours that challenge.
Today, a well-kept staircase leads down to the Lodge grounds, where staff and students are digging and clearing leaves from a vegetable patch. Now, the grounds are clean and tidy, with a den and allotment areas carefully laid out. Little bird boxes hang on tree trunks, wooden benches and flower boxes decorate the path leading to the Lodge. The rejuvenation is a result of ongoing work by Skills Tank staff and students.
“By the summer, we can be self-sufficient up here; we can dig our vegetables up and cook healthy meals with them,” Sam says as she shows us the small kitchen where staff and students make lunch each day. One of the ways the project contributes to the healthier lives of staff and students. The positive atmosphere at Barr Beacon Lodge is palpable today, demonstrated by the energy and enthusiasm of both staff and students.
For ten years Sam has worked for Care First and admits the Barr Beacon Lodge project was “completely different” to anything the organisation had done before. Not letting that put them off, after discussion with the Care First team Sam decided to seize the opportunity. At first, Sam was worried about how students would adapt to coming to Barr Beacon as some have 2 to 1 staff support and behaviours that challenge, some are autistic and some mental health.
Throughout the year, Sam has seen the project go from strength to strength. Working at the Barr Beacon Lodge has also given the students the chance to get to know the local community better. The team (staff and students) have been to visit a neighbouring farmer and accepted an invitation to help him with fruit picking. The whole experience is helping students build their skills set, enjoy nature and learn more about looking after the environment in which they live.
However, Sam has found that up at the Lodge,
Students have the freedom to roam and the difference has been amazing.
Staff have found creative ways of ensuring that the site and equipment used is safe for everyone. She goes on to say,
Some of our staff don’t have gardens, it’s been nice for them to get involved.
Sam sums up the appeal of the project saying,
It’s massive, and it’s never going to end.
With support from Clean and Green, Skills Tank staff and students as well as the local community, Barr Beacon Lodge will continue to reap the benefits of thriving and growing in this renewed green space.