EASTERN EYE’S colourful “Garden of Unity”, which caught the attention of King Charles and Queen Camilla at the Chelsea Flower Show in May this year, has been donated by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) to a multicultural school in a deprived area of south London.
Children at the Sacred Heart RC Primary School in Battersea appear thrilled that they will now get to look after the garden, designed by the landscape artist Manoj Malde.
He brought together different elements so that it would appeal to all communities.
The formal opening of the garden on a wet and cold day last Tuesday (12) attracted Baroness Floella Benjamin, an RHS vicepresident, and the mayor of Wandsworth, councillor Juliana Annan.
As children crowded around as the ribbon was cut, Malde said: “Gardens bring communities together. It’s about nurturing in nature. I know like myself, the RHS is passionate about younger generations connecting with nature and gardening.”
He added: “In the name of sustainability, I am delighted this Chelsea garden lives on here at the school and will be enjoyed by so many from different cultural backgrounds and traditions. It is every child’s birthright to have access to an outdoor space.”
Jared Brading, executive headteacher of the school, which has 400 children aged three to 11, told Eastern Eye: “The garden will make such a difference to the experience of the children. It is a colourful, vibrant space that in the years ahead will be filled with children and adults alike. The children are getting lots and lots of things to arouse that spark of interest. Who knows, but the next Chris Packham or David Attenborough could come out of here.”
During the summer, Brading visited the Chelsea Flower Show and saw the Eastern Eye Garden of Unity: “I was lucky enough to see it – it was beautiful.”
He explained why his school offered the perfect home for the garden: “We have children of all faiths and children of no faith as well. But everyone understands values of kindness, love and respect. They are universal values, aren’t they? They are not just Catholic values.
“The school is really mixed. We have about 80 nationalities, mainly from the Catholic and Christian diaspora – from African nations, South American nations, Asian nations, the Philippines, and Goa. And we speak around 50 different languages.
“We are a Catholic school, but there are lots of children from different faiths – Jewish children, Muslim children, children of no faith. Our school is a sort of melting pot.”
He pointed that “40 per cent of the children are entitled to free school meals. There is quite a lot of deprivation in the area. Because of the mayor’s campaign, every child gets a school dinner. Thanks to Sadiq Khan’s universal free school meal, 40 per cent of them are entitled to free school dinner.
“This costs £2.20 to £2.50 and going up all the time because of inflation. If you’re entitled to free school meals, we’re entitled to something called a pupil premium, which attracts an extra £1,000 into the school.
“It’s good to have that universal free school meal because it means the catering company can get bigger economies of scale, cooking for more children so they can get the food cheaper. And it cuts out that sort of discrimination or that sort of stigma about having free school meals (because everyone has a meal).”
A typical lunch included “a vegetarian or meat option. And it’s fish on Fridays, of course, as it is a Catholic school.”
Here, too, the children learnt the value of gardening: “We have our own salad bar. And some of the produce from our gardens and the herbs come into the salad bar. And then we have a cooking club and a gardening club. We make pumpkin soup from the pumpkins that we grow.”
He said that “basically we’re giving them as wide a breadth of experiences as we can and set them good educational routines. We have homework clubs, we have study and support booster classes. We get very good educational results despite our deprivation. Our English was in the top 15 per cent of the country last year in writing and reading.
“We want them to experience being in the garden, experience music, we have an orchestra, we have good sports teams, arts clubs, drama clubs, get them involved and interested in things wider than just maths and English. But we also make sure that in our basics we are doing really well.”
When it comes to gardening, the RHS seeks to catch children young, but Brading said he believed in “catching children young with music, with sports, with appreciation of nature, not just gardening.
“We want to see the garden attracting biodiversity. We have animal and bird feeders, we have a pond, we do pond dipping to get the children interested in biodiversity. We went to the neighbouring park and did a bio-blitz, to label butterflies and insects.”
When Brading learnt the RHS was looking for a home for the Eastern Eye Garden of Unity, “I felt when I was talking to Manoj that our school meets your ethos. It is a garden of peace, a garden where people can gather, a garden of tranquillity. Lots of our children have had quite traumatic experiences. For them to have something quiet and peaceful to go to is really nice.”