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This Week’s Guest Blogger is CBBC & BBC Presenter and Founder of the School Gardening Success Plan, Lee Connelly, The Skinny Jean Gardener who talks about why he got into school gardening

Having got to my mid twenties believing that potatoes grew on some incredible potato tree, and cauliflowers grew in the darkness of the soil, it wasn’t until I found myself on an allotment at 26 that I realised this may have not been quite true.

So how did I get to this age not knowing. Well mainly because in my younger years it was never talked about. Dads garden was a look but don’t touch, he was very proud of it and to be honest I can see a little why he didn’t want me tearing though his hard work, even if I do suggest it now, to let children run wild and enjoy the space you’ve got.

My school gardening time was mainly spent round a muddy old pond. That’s it. So it was no wonder that while I was tucked away in my room revising for GCSE’s (5 A stars if your asking) in my teenage years, and breaking some moves on the dance floor in my early twenties, that I made it to the grand old age of 26 not having a clue.

To cut a long story short, I started an allotment, and somehow ended up a TV presenter, on CBBC Blue Peter no less. And so I was thrown into children’s gardening teaching parents how to garden together, to then become a parent myself. That got me thinking, do I want my daughter to get to her mid twenties not knowing where her food comes from?!

Together we spent time building our garden, taking on her ideas, testing them and finally turning that into a book. Then through my work with the BBC, brands and touring the UK I realised that the best way to get children was not only through parents, but through schools and teachers.

But here lay the problem. As much as teachers knew the benefits of gardening at school (which clearly had come a long way since that muddy pond at my school), teachers had no plan or idea what to do, no structure to make that happen. There had been plenty of campaigns, some of which I had been part of, that promoted school gardening, but none that stuck around long enough after that photo shoot that you’d see in your local paper with some clever pun like “Growing knowledge” or something like that.

It was half way through my final tour of that kind that I realised I was the problem. I was the one that was stopping school gardening by showing up and disappearing and vowed to change that and finally do something about it. You can watch the documentary of this here.. https://youtu.be/igDoyrGTmOs

So over 2020/2021 I spent time, money and a lot more time working on The School Gardening Success Plan. I worked with brands that I trusted to keep the cost low for schools, set up a team to support teachers, and created lessons that I knew throughout the year teachers could easily play out with their class ending up with a successful crop at the end of it. It’s everything that I wish I had when I was younger and everything that I new my daughter and children her age would appreciate and learn from.

We supply all the equipment, lessons, and most importantly teacher support. One of the biggest things I realised while visiting schools was that there were many ambassadors of school gardening out there, teachers, parents and volunteers. They inspired, pushed the gardening message, and taught children where their food come from, all while support children’s mental heath, getting them outside and away from a screen. The were instrumental in keeping children gardening. It was the schools without these heroes that struggled, and not down to the fault of the teachers that were there. There just was no guide for it. So I made sure that we support teachers with a team of people to answer all of their questions. We want success all over the UK.

In fact by 2025 we are going to have 30,000 primary schools using this plan. That’s almost every primary school in the UK. Then we will sped the next 10 years making sure every class has one, so that children everywhere in the UK will have a space to grow and care for wildlife..

..and no one will be looking for that magical potato tree ever again.

Find out more about The School Gardening Success Plan at https://skinnyjeangardener.co.uk/schoolsuccess

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