Students at our Radlett Lodge School pitched up at St Albans Market last week (13 July), showcasing produce they’ve grown and crafted in the school garden and newly-opened allotment (8 July).
Students Matthew, Jonathan, Zach, and Ahmed, with Jo Galloway, the school principal
This was the first time the students, who are in the school's post-16 department, have shown their wares at a market – jams, chutneys, marrows, beans and much more. With support from staff, they overcame social anxieties and sold almost all their stock, coming away feeling proud and full of confidence.
All money raised from sale of produce goes directly back to the students, helping them to integrate with their communities through activities like sailing, going to the gym, and even sledging.
Staff and students first launched Radlett Lodge ‘Gardencraft’ in 2012, opening a school garden where students could develop their life skills, boost their confidence and benefit from being outside. At first, students grew crops and herbs for use in school kitchen, but this quickly expanded to flower arranging and making colourful hanging baskets and cards with pressed flowers from the garden.
Soon, the students started selling excess produce to staff during a weekly café, before moving onto seasonal fairs, pop-up shops and mail orders to parents. By 2015, they realised they needed to expand, so Ali Humphrey, a teacher who leads on the project, secured a community allotment at Tippendell Lane in St Albans.
Since then, staff and students have been digging, weeding, planting and then harvesting an exciting variety of crops. They’ve also been designing and making bird houses, bug boxes, jams, chutneys as well as a new range of body scrubs, balms and bath melts inspired by nature.
'Gardencraft’ market stall
The school and local garden community gathered on 8 July to formally open the allotment, with a ribbon cutting and a speech from Jo Galloway, Principal of Radlett Lodge School.
More than 1 in 100 people are on the autism spectrum, including an estimated 120,000 school-aged children in England. This means that someone sees, hears and feels the world in a different, often more intense way. But autism affects each person differently and can make school life very challenging. For instance, some children are so sensitive to light or sound that an overhead light or humming computer can be physically painful and make it almost impossible to follow a lesson. For others, a small change to the day’s schedule, like the school bus turning up late or a sudden change to the seating plan, can feel like the end of the world.
Some children are able to excel in mainstream schools while others require extensive support in specialist settings, such as Radlett Lodge School.
Ahmed, 17, a student at the school, said: “I see all the work I have done and it makes me feel proud to be working on the allotment."
Jonathan, 17, said: “I have learnt about what plants need and how to take care of them."
Zach, 17, said: “It’s exciting to work with my friends to grow and look after our own produce."
Stuart Mainwaring and Zach at the 'Gardencraft' stall
Jo Galloway, said: “We’re so lucky to have hardworking pupils and dynamic staff team who make wonderful things like ‘Gardencraft’ happen.
"The project has been so positive for our students. As well as providing a therapeutic environment where they can build strength and confidence, it gives them essential life skills crucial for adulthood like cooking and managing money.
"It's also encouraged students to eat well and be healthy. One student has changed from eating foods such as pot noodles each day for lunch, to wanting to cook his own meals with fresh ingredients. And he now wants to work on a fruit and veg market stall.
"Giving our pupils ambition, skill, and confidence is absolutely priceless. And it would not have been possible without the leadership of Ali Humphrey, support from the Parish Council and Aylett Nurseries, our neighbouring allotment holders and the many other people who have given up their time and donated to this project. We’re so grateful to all of you."
Read more about Radlett Lodge School