From Plot to Plate
Ever thought of setting up a school allotment but unsure of where to start? Julia Mottershead, Teacher of Art and Food Studies at Thistley Hough Academy, shares her key tips for partnership development, community engagement, and the importance of pupils gaining essential life skills.
Schools across Creative Education Trust run projects which help pupils to engage with and contribute to their local communities (further details can be found here) From Plot to Plate at Thistley Hough Academy is one of the latest examples, which is all about showing students where food comes from and where it can take you, whilst bringing the wider community along that journey. Through the project, students learn how to cook for themselves and their families, how to reduce food waste, and gain experience which is vital to their futures.
Julia was initially motivated to see how Food Studies could be taken further. “Cooking is a life skill, and it should be brought to the forefront of the curriculum. I think we’re losing the independence of cooking - understanding the basics of what we eat and why, and the importance of local food and giving back to the community. We need to make sure these skills are embedded throughout the generations.” Thinking about the land available at Thistley Hough, Julia was eager to set up an allotment. Getting support was crucial. Julia’s main advice to schools is to ensure “it’s not one person taking it on. It’s about talking to the site team and seeing if they’re interested. It’s about speaking to the senior leadership team and asking how they can support. It’s about meeting with budget holders and explaining how the project will be cost-effective after the initial set-up. It’s all about buy-in”.
Julia with courgettes freshly picked from the allotment!
Essential to the success of From Plot to Plate has been embedding the allotment into the Key Stage 3 curriculum. Every one in three Food Studies lessons at Thistley Hough is a hands-on allotment experience for pupils. Julia shared the impact that this has on learning, and the limits of purely theory-based lessons. “Now pupils are growing their own veg. They have to deal with the issues of seasonality for themselves and it’s sinking in, rather than just talking about it in the classroom”. Pupils are simultaneously learning about sustainability and enterprise, discovering how growing can be cost-effective, and how produce can be sold or donated. Julia explains how this helps pupils “make the most of the curriculum” rather than disengaging. They’ve seen the results of their hard work, with the allotment’s first term leading to radishes, French beans, courgettes, apples, and more.
Pupils discover what they’ve been able to grow.
However, the project doesn’t stop with curriculum learning. There’s now demand for a gardening club, and pupils who are keen to learn more about hospitality. Fortunately, Thistley Hough have set up some great partnerships to support their journey. It all began with reaching out to Feasted, a local fine dining establishment that prioritises training and education. Feasted had a suggestion board at one of their events. Julia was inspired to make a range of recommendations before “it triggered something, and I realised that this could go further”. Feasted have since supported the school by offering pupils work experience in hospitality, insight days into their restaurant and the micro-seasonal, hyper-local tasting menu they offer, and delivering engaging activities in school. Thistley Hough has also been one of 10 lucky schools who’ve been selected to work with The Jamie Oliver Group, gaining exclusive videos, recipe sheets and lesson plans. Partners the school has been fortunate to work with continue to grow, now including the Staffordshire Oat Cake Company, Aspens, local councillors, and a Stoke-based charity who will be collaborating with the school to offer hospitality experience with pupils serving elderly people.
Julia and Rachael Colerick from Feasted. Thistley Hough received a donation from Feasted in exchange for their allotment-grown food.
But how has the school set this up? “It’s about bringing people in, getting the word out, and having confidence in an idea”. Julia explained the ripple effect this has had, after sharing that “It’s a win-win for everyone involved and that there are benefits to all”. Students gain great experience and exposure to professionals, whilst businesses are helping to upskill their future workforce. Pupils are gaining independence, agency, and confidence as they learn to grow food for themselves, and communication skills through customer service. “There’s also a sense of pride, with pupils thinking ‘I did that. Even if I just have 3 carrots it doesn’t matter as I grew them.’”
The school has benefited from generous donations from the local community.
The wider community has also been keen to get involved. Thistley Hough had people donating seeds, wanting to deliver talks, and getting potting tables set up. Julia has made sure to always raise awareness of the project on social media and to thank others for their engagement. “It has a knock-on effect. More and more people want to get involved”. The school look forward to recognising everyone who’s helped them along the way at a launch event in October 2023, where pupils will hand out canapés and show partners and community members around the site. We’re excited to see what’s next for the school and From Plot to Plate!