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.