A Thrive programme to help young people with special educational needs is in full swing in Birmingham and Gateshead thanks to a generous grant of £30,000 from the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys through their Stepping Stones scheme.
Called Grow and Learn, it is a practical training programme which uses gardening to support young people (aged 16-19) with SEN and complex needs.
It will help them develop personal and life skills, improve their work skills and in-work etiquette and allows them to study a City & Guilds qualification in horticulture.
The Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys’ Petitions Committee said they were very impressed by both the application and the project.
"We really liked the mix of classroom learning and practical gardening activities that will give disadvantaged young people the opportunity to gain a qualification and improve their social skills," a spokesman said.
Thrive’s team will work with 14 students once a week for up to 2 years. Students undertake classroom-based work, develop practical gardening skills and learn about healthy living and lifestyles. The Grow and Learn programme, which has already been successful at Thrive in London and Reading, will help students develop confidence and self-esteem and the charity’s approach is tailored to enable students to progress at their own speed.
Students are encouraged to be part of the decision-making process about running the project. Initially this is with support from Thrive, but as they become more confident, they take more independent decision-making responsibility.
Thrive’s horticultural therapists will work with students and their support team to establish individual needs and aspirations, then create Individual Development Programmes (IDPs) to ensure outcomes are achieved.
Individual support needs and IDP goals are embedded into activities to help students work towards personal and work related goals. These IDPs support and complement school/college based Learning Plans and several teachers have reported an increase in their student’s participation in other activities as their confidence grows and they share successes with their classmates.
A Birmingham teenager has credited Thrive with building up his confidence and knowledge about gardening to such an extent that he is now working alongside his school caretaker.
Callum, aged 16, has been on Thrive Birmingham’s Grow and Learn course since September 2015 and is on track to gain his City and Guilds Level 1 in Work Based Horticulture this summer.
Callum, who is a pupil at Chadsgrove School, said: "Thrive has been great for me. I’ve enjoyed being outdoors and everything about the course has been good.
"The work bit is not too bad, and it has been good learning about trees and knowing about potting on, sowing seeds and pruning.
"There is so much more to gardening than I expected!"
Callum said that since being at Thrive he has learnt to mix with lots of different people and feels more confident in himself and chilled out.
"I asked the school and Mark the caretaker if I could do some gardening at the school because the gardens are a bit all over the place!
"So now I work with Mark one day a week. I’ve been sweeping leaves and there are a lot of brambles to cut down. We’re also going to make some birdhouses."
Amanda Fields, Thrive Birmingham Regional Manager, said: "Students who join Grow and Learn face real disadvantage. They are young people with high support needs and whilst they may aspire to gain and hold down a job, many will struggle to achieve this goal.
"Grow and Learn is designed to fill a gap to help these young people by offering informal learning in an out-of-school environment with the aim of improving their life chances and place them in a stronger position to discover new skills and talents, which will move them into further training, volunteering or even employment.
"I’m thrilled that Callum has used his own initiative to approach the school and work in this way and he has also got a place at college starting later this year."
Kathryn Rossiter, Thrive Chief Executive, said: "Students who join Grow and Learn face real disadvantage. They are young people with high support needs and whilst they may aspire to gain and hold down a job, many will struggle to achieve this goal.
"In the transition to adult life, children with a learning disability and complex needs are disadvantaged; they are often socially excluded and can live with a sense of failure and under-achievement that grows through adolescence.
"Alienation from their peers results in higher truancy rates, which exacerbate poor academic achievement. Grow & Learn is designed to fill a gap to help these disadvantaged young people by offering informal learning in an out-of-school environment.
"It aims to improve their life chances and place them in a stronger position to discover new skills and talents, which will move them into further training, volunteering or even employment.
"Without support these young people can feel their choices are limited – with many feeling that their only option as an adult is to attend a day centre. We are helping to prepare them to take the next step, whether that is into further training, volunteering, or employment."