They are scattered across the playing fields. Three large groups of children, huddled around a smaller cluster of adults. All is quiet as they listen intently to what they are being told, before an explosion of chatter hits my ears – a babble of excited can-do blasts at me on the chill wind.
Painting the town green!
I am at Luton Junior School in Chatham. This area is the most deprived in Medway, and the 17th most deprived in Kent, with around a quarter of children living in poverty. Some of the children lack coats, but they don't seem to notice the cold – focussed, engrossed, hunched over shared clipboards. They have been given a mapping exercise, to imagine what this school playing field could be. Natural features are added to their blank maps – minibeast home log piles, trees, long grass, wildflower meadows and edging forests, along with swings and slides. Imaginations are running wild, in both senses.
The children will switch activities three times in a session, moving over to tree planting around the field's edge, learning about and planting species including willow, silver birch, rowan, wild cherry, common oak and field maple trees supplied by The Woodland Trust, as well as the (literal) surefire winner, seedbombing.
I move over to the tree planters. Biodegradable paint has been sprayed in bright splodges to mark the spots in which the trees will go. The children are taught to handle the spades safely to avoid Vic Reeves-style frying pan moments, holes are dug, saplings are chosen and bedded in, before being covered with a protective sheath through which the tree can grow out over time. Future forests, knee high to these pupils, will one day tower over them and their own children.
For seedbombing, seeds are mixed with clay and compost to form soft, grey lumps. The children lob them on a count of three, and I cannot help but think how similar exercises would have been carried out on the Great Lines in front of us in times gone by. Our lobbed shot will yield better results though – splashes of colour around the field's perimeter in future summers.
Parents, grandparents, neighbours and carers have joined the children for these sessions, braving the cold for the delight of watching the children learning something new and exciting, and learning a thing or two about nature themselves.
This part of the project is spearheaded by Painting The Town Green Trainee Christine Hodgetts, and Luton Junior School teacher Dann Hutton, who specialises in outdoor learning. We'll continue working with the school throughout the year and will be posting updates at www.paintingthetowngreen.com.