Our planning discussion on Tuesday focused significantly on one young person who, since we started doing the sessions on the valley, has struggled to focus and be part of the group. When we are in the allotment it doesn’t matter that he has a tendency to wonder off and do his own thing, as it’s a safe and contained space. The agreement we made with the young people, including him, clearly didn’t have the affect with him that we wanted it to. When we discussed the agreement with him at the end of the session on Thursday, he suggested that he couldn’t remember what we had said when we made it and that maybe he should stop coming altogether. When we explained the agreement again to him, he told us that he didn’t think he would be able to remember that for the following week. He told him that if he wanted to be involved in the valley sessions, and we really wanted him to be, he needed to agree to the agreement we had made. He needed to commit to not going out of staff sight without an adult present. Given he couldn’t commit to this; we had a bit of a dilemma.
We wanted him to continue attending the sessions on the valley, but equally felt it was a risk if he wasn’t going to stick with the group. At the same time, a significant part of being on the valley is to be freer and to explore. And, the session is not meant to governed by rules. The fact that he wants to explore is a positive thing and what was the worst that could happen. The valley was directly behind his house and he probably knows the area better than us. However, we need him to be safe and HPS is responsible if something happens to him on the valley. We do not have the resources to give him a one-on-one nor do we want to make him the focus of the sessions.
We eventually agreed that we would have a chat with him at the start of the Thursday session and see if he would then agree to stick with the group. This was made possible as we started by sowing seeds on the allotment. During that, we spoke both to him and the group as a whole. At this point, he agreed to stay with the group which he kept to when we went onto the valley. The only minor issue occurred when we were on our way back and he wanted to take a detour, which we did not have time for. He started working in that direction anyway, but when he saw that we weren’t going to follow him, he rejoined the group. We had wanted to talk to him at the end, but he still seemed hung up on us not taking his detour and he left abruptly, again claiming that he might not come back next week.
Having taken some time off to start my other placement with Forest School Camps (FSC), I was now back at HPS. On Tuesday, we planned the Thursday session at Killingbeck, where, having got permission from the council, we hoped to do den building, kindling collections and some games. The session itself ran slightly different to what we had planned. There weren’t many young people that week and those that were there seemed quite distracted. I ended up leading some sensory forest school games, and then we collected wood and eventually made a small fire (see photo). The fire hadn’t been planned, but having collected the kindling, it felt that it would be an uncompleted job not to actually make a fire.
Following on from making the poo signs, at the Rosebank on Friday we put the signs up. It turns out they really enjoyed planting the onions and were excited to watch them grow and so after putting the signs up we planted sunflowers and peas. We ended the session by making seed-bombs (or what now have to be called seed angels...).
The following Tuesday we had the team meeting and then more evaluation of the previous week and then more planning for the upcoming week. We agreed that one issue with running sessions in the meadows at Killingbeck, rather than the contained allotment, was the risk of people walking off and/or leaving without the staff knowing. We therefore agreed that in this weeks session, we would start by discussing with the young people and coming up with an agreement which everyone would respect. Central to this, was that the young people would not go out of site without asking if an adult would go with them. I found it slightly uncomfortable that we wanted the young people to come up with the agreement, but at the same time, we had a set of ideas which we felt we needed the young people to agree with.
On Thursday, the struggle was getting them to focus and engage with the activity. Understandably, they didn’t want to discuss an agreement, but to go into the meadow and make fires and play games. Ironically, their reluctance to engage meant that we ended up only having half an hour on the meadow, when we had hoped to have over an hour. When they did engage in the conversation about the agreement, they said very sensible things and one of the first points they made was about always being insight of an adult. It'll be interesting to see whether they stick to the agreement. Within the agreement it also states that if they break it, the staff will have to chat with them about the behaviour on the meadow before they are allowed back to a session on the meadow.
Spring seems to have appeared - the wild garlic is out, the sun is shining, and the evenings are long. The onions and some other vegetables are also starting to come up at the allotment.
Having missed the chance to make rocket stoves last Tuesday, I was keen to help finish them off with the young people. While some people had finished theirs, the majority had gotten most the way and then left them. So, I sat down with young people, and helped them to put the finishing touches onto their rocket stoves. A lot of people had done the big bits of work such as cutting the holes, but hadn’t done the fiddly parts link bending the metal back so that the insulation didn’t fall out. With a little guidance we completed these jobs. Everyone seems proud of their work.
On Thursday, at Killingbeck, we were transferring plants from one bed to another - mainly strawberries and currents. There was one boy who wasn’t interested in doing this job and so I tried to engage him in another job – taking the plastic off the cardboard boxes. It’s interesting how these little interventions give you the opportunity to get to know people better. As we were working one-on-one I was able to ask him questions which in a group setting I couldn’t have. I found out that he’s going to London for the first time with school over Easter for a few night. He’s worried about where he is going to stay. I tried to reassure him that the school would have sorted that. He also told me his parents were concerned for his safety following the incident at Westminster on the 22nd March. I didn’t know what to say to this, so asked him what he thought about the attacks? He just shrugged.
Dog poo on the Rosebank has been a consistent problem, and so on Friday, we made signs about clearing up your poo. We then, planted lots of onions in small pots. The idea is that because you put so many onions into a pot, they don't have the space to grow like normal onions and so will grow like spring onions. The young people each made on pot and took these home with them. Doing this also facilitated conversations about food and made me realise how bad their diets often are. We hoped that by teaching them how easy it is to grow their own food, they might show a greater interest in eating more healthily. Obviously, it isn’t that simple, and diet is interrelated in many other social, economic and cultural factors, but it is important for them to develop a connection between what is grown and what they eat.
Unfortunately, I had a seasonal cold last week and consequently missed making rocket stoves on Tuesday and painting a shed on Thursday.
Friday morning I was back at Bedford Fields and planted raspberries bushes and moved some vigorous Creeping Jenny. In the afternoon, I was back at the Rosebank. Having dug the trenches last week for the willows, this week we discovered that the willows were half the size of our trenches which caused a few little problems. Lesson learnt – better communication required, plus assessing the whole project (i.e. checking size of willows first), rather than only focusing on actions required (i.e. digging trenches). Nonetheless, in the process of digging trenches we did find a lot of interesting things. The area we were digging used to be terraced housing, but was bombed during WW2. It appears we uncovered the coal room of the house as we found several pieces of coal, as well as tiles, and huge slabs of stone which we thought might have been used to cut meat on. We ended up filling the trenches back in with as much soil as we could find and planting the willows whips.
After that, we played a game. The young people were initially reluctant to learn a different game, but it ended up working well and involved them using different senses. A circle is made using bags, coats, etc, or can be made by the staff standing in a circle. Inside the circle, are all the people that are playing. One person is blind-folded. They have to try and catch the other people inside the circle by moving around. The people who are not blind-folded have to move around to avoid being caught. How you choose to avoid being caught is up to you. You can be loud or quiet, be still or move around. Once you’ve been caught, you form part of the circle. The last person to be caught is the winner. It was interesting watch them learn the game and discover new techniques and way or catching/avoid being caught. As always, it was also interesting observing how those that are most confident and outgoing when they have their sight, are not always the most confident when this is taken away from them.
It’s interesting how much more you notice the weather when you’re working outside most the time. While at the start of the week it felt like spring had come early, the latter part of the week, while not wintery, has been a lot more windy and cold.
On Tuesday, like on most Tuesday’s so far, we had more digging to do. We also planted beans and beetroots, while another group rebuilt a shed. (Rocket stoves are next week.) Reflecting on last week, I tried to spend more time talking to the young people as well as doing the work. Within this, at one point I phrased a question badly. Or, not necessarily badly but not as well I could have. I asked “Had a good week?”, which led to the response, “I never had good weeks. It’s just a matter of getting through them”. While their answer was not of concern as their situation is understood by relevant services, I could have phrased the question in a more open manner such as “how was your week?”. It’s not a big deal, but worth reflecting on. My assumption that the default position of week is a positive one was clearly misled and informed by my own experiences. If I had phrased my question more openly, I would probably have got a different answer.
Thursday at Killingbeck ran smoothly and felt more controlled and structured than the previous week. On Tuesday we had planned to do more whittling and cook dampers (dough which you wrap around a stick) on the fire. When we arrived, the first thing people asked was whether we were going to make fire again which I think is positive and demonstrates that the group in engaged the program we have designed. The group ended up breaking up into two. Half the young people went and learnt to whittle safely, while I took another group to collect wood and then build a fire. Everything came together nicely and everyone cooked dampers. I was slightly shocked by how few of them seemed aware that dough made bread. At first, a lot of them, were put off by the dough, saying it looked “nasty”, but with a little encouragement by the majority gave it 10/10 – 1 being inedible and 10 being best thing they’d ever eaten.
I spent Friday morning at Bedford Fields working with a group to propagate Daylily’s. This involves digging them up, taking about 50% of the tubers and then replanting those tubers. I was taught this process at the start of the session, and subsequently, I taught it to others. This afternoon, I’m at Rosebank.
Next week Spring will have officially arrived and it’ll be British Summer Time!
Having spent the first month finding my feet, I’m now generally feeling comfortable at HPS.
Tuesday followed the usual routine of morning meeting, then Forward Leeds and finally planning for the Thursday session.
At Forward Leeds, we continued to focus on turning the soil and starting to plant. In the process we also found an extremely smelly pond. I found that while I was leading by example and getting stuck into the digging, and I wasn’t dedicating enough time to talking with the young people. When your program of intervention is based on ‘doing’, I've found it often becomes quite hard to find time to do the more emotional/one-to-one work. Thus, I’ve started to use the break times, when people have a drink, to sit down with people and have a chat and find out what’s going on in their lives. I also overheard 2 young people discuss how this session is so much better than any indoor group session. The previous week we had also made pancakes on a rocket stove. People had seemed quite interested in them and so with Behla, we worked out that next week we are going to make smaller ‘Rocket stoves’ which the young people can make and then take home with them. One young person joked that there would be no need to make a barbeque in future.
On Thursday, I ran a session at Killingbeck on fire-lighting which overall went well though there are several areas for improvement. We had more young people than I had previously had at this session which from the outset made it slightly more difficult. Equally, the level of knowledge and ability in relation to fire-lighting was quite broad. Nonetheless, it seemed that all young people were engaged and the tasks were differentiated sufficiently that everyone was involved. Those that were less confident and/or able, focused on using a flint and steel and lighting a piece of cotton wool, while others focused on actually making the fire which involved collecting some kindling wood (we had already collected most the wood as we anticipated that they would not collect enough). Having given the whole group a talk of fire safety, they all seemed aware of the dangers of a fire and were safe around the fire. Finally, once the fire was going, I did one-on-one sessions teaching people how to whittle safely. This was followed by toasting marshmallows on the fire which everyone loved. It was good that there was an end point or purpose to the fire making and whittling. It seemed to complete the session well.
There were however, several areas for improvement. Especially as there were more people than usual, talking to everyone was quite difficult and the young people struggled to fully focus. This meant that they didn’t always follow instructions accurately. Though overall this wasn’t a problem and everyone remained safe, working out how to get people to focus more would be useful. Part of the problem is that the sessions are quite short and thus there isn’t always time to create the right atmosphere for ‘calm’ activities such as fire-lighting. Equally, the vastly varying ability levels meant that finding an activities within fire-lighting which worked for all the young people was difficult. At points, this led to the structure of the session breaking down.
Overall, the session was a success. Everyone generally remained engaged, was involved in some way, and everyone enjoyed marshmallows at the end.
Having had a few lovely days of spring, this week returned to more predictable February weather. Nonetheless, I managed to get out a fair amount, including to the Woodhouse Moor allotments, Killingbeck and Bedford fields. I also submitted an application to Leeds Council to use an area of wood in Primrose Valley Park.
On Tuesday, at Woodhouse Moor, we worked with a group of about 10 young people planting and clearing, as well as making pancakes. I focused on weeding a bed and then planting onions, while others rediscovered a very smelly pond and cleared brash. I was working with four young people who were predominately autonomous in their work. Saying that, some were more confident than others and more proactive in their approach. Others required more structured guidance and support. Overall, the activity ran extremely smoothly. The only minor issue being that some of the young people became a little impatient and wanted to start planting before we had fully finished weeding. As I was slightly distracted working with another person, I failed to fully notice this and so the onions were planted regardless. No matter, onions are hardy.
On Thursday, at Killingbeck, as the weather was better than last week, a handful of young people turned up and we finished wood-chipping the path. Unfortunately, Luke’s beetroot brownies were received less well.
Friday, and I did as much learning as teaching at Bedford fields community forest garden. Unfortunately, the weather had turned for the worse, and so turnout was rather bad. Thus, I focused on learning from one of the people who runs the garden. He explained how to identify certain roots by smelling them and maybe more importantly, how to best plant a plum tree. While I have previously done a lot of tree planting, I have rarely planted fruit trees, so this was a valuable lesson. He also explained how best to teach planting fruit trees to others.
Finally, less interestingly, but no less important, I submitted an application to Leeds Council to use a small area of woodland in Primrose Valley Park. The application involved explaining what we hoped to do and achieve as well conducting a risk assessment on the activities we planned on running, and other document evidencing such as safeguarding.
The details of the sessions I will be helping to run at Rosebank are becoming clearer. Charlie and I spent an hour or so discussing ideas for how best to engage the young people and came up with a list of activities and games including those based around Forest School Principles. While I have not yet worked with this group, having seen the site and having talked with Charlie about his experience of working with this group, I believe our ideas will be fun and engaging for the young people.
On a cold, windy and wet Thursday, I cycled to Killingbeck to start our programme on intervention. Unfortunately, the effects of ‘Storm Doris’ meant that view few young people turned up. We had planned to run an interactive name game and then dig up a new path and lay the woodchip, or our wet weather plan, was to play games inside the community centre. But, as so few people turned up and as it was so cold, we skipped the games, and spent an hour doing some manual labour which was rewarded by hot Ribena and chocolate brownies. While the low-turnout was disappointing, it is not surprising that so few young people wanted to attend given the conditions. Equally, as this was the first session, they have not got into the structure of attending and so maybe if this had been a month of two into the program more people would have turned up.
The weather on Friday was quite the opposite, and so attendance of the ‘Outdoor Active and Well’ group was much higher. While, I am yet to help plan one of these session, I am able to provide support and learn about food growing and permaculture. In this session, half the group were digging a new path (this seems to be regular winter activity), while I worked with one young person pruning fruit trees and re-planting wild strawberries. On previous sessions, the young person had mainly focused on manual labour, such as digging paths, but to the surprise of most of the staff, this week they volunteered for a different type of work. It is unclear whether this new type of work, worked for them. While they initially seemed engaged, they equally seemed frustrated by the pruning and then left the session half way through the strawberry planting. The focus of these sessions is to be relatively self-directed and to work on one’s own initiative, but reflecting on my practise, I wonder whether I should have been more directive. Unlike digging paths, pruning requires more instructions, the job is more complex and there is less room for error. Having not worked with this person before, I was unaware of their needs and capabilities, but if I work with them again, one strategy that might work is to be clearer in my instructions and break the tasks down into more manageable sections.
The majority of my first two weeks have been scheming and planning for future weeks. Having completed the usual induction procedures, meet everyone and sat in on the regular Tuesday morning meeting, I got straight to work. First task - understanding how a Karabirrdt works. Put simply, it is a technique for planning, implementing and monitoring a project. I am yet to see it in practise, and while it seems to me that it might be framed in mystifying and exclusive language, I am interested to see how it works in practise. Everyone here seems quite excited by it.
That Tuesday afternoon, Behla and I went to work with the GROW TOGETHER group who were this week building bird boxes which the following week would be sanded down and then put up around Hyde Park. This was a really enjoyable first experience of working with HPS. Initially, I was worrying that I might be the third wheel in the group and I wouldn’t have anything to contribute or help with. But, like with everyone I have met at and through HPS, people was open and welcoming. Two bird boxes, and a couple of scratches on my hand later, we strolled back to HPS through the Rosebank (another HPS project).
Since then, I have predominately been planning projects alongside Luke and Charlie for Killingbeck and Rosebank. The following Tuesday, I went with Luke to the Killingbeck site, where he showed me around the allotment and into the nature reserve next to it, where we are planning on running outdoor games and activities for a group of young people from Thursday. Similar to the activities I have subsequently been designing with Charlie for Rosebank, we have been attempting to work out how to integrate growing food with playing fun inclusive games. We’re trying to avoid a situation where games are the fun part, and time on the allotment is the work. For both projects, we have now discussed and identified a series of activities which will hopefully be suitable to the groups we’re working with.
Having spent over 10 years helping run outdoor education activities in a variety of different settings, I’m keen to develop my practise at HYP. I think there is significant scope for collaboration and I look forward to taking full advantage of this opportunity. So, I better stop writing about it and go out and do it.