Innovative outdoor projects designed to improve mental and physical health and access to education for young people are under way in South Cambridgeshire and Cambridge, after a £44,000 funding boost.
The four schemes range from a sensory garden at a community college, to an outdoor natural play space and woodland trail at a recreation ground, a cycling project for those with special needs to help overcome barriers to disability, and a mobile youth club and coffee truck.
The funding is provided by Children’s Area Partnership Grants from local bodies including South Cambridgeshire District Council, Cambridge City Council and Cambridgeshire County Council.
- At Cambourne Village College, a grant of £9,100 will build a greenhouse and pathways for a new sensory garden to get pupils outside and involved in nature, as well as providing a calm sanctuary to aid mental well-being.
- An unused eyesore area of copse at Great Shelford Recreation Ground, transformed into an outdoor natural play space and woodland trail three years ago, will be further developed with a £7,681 grant adding permanent play dens, paths, plants and equipment.
- At Castle School in Courtney Way, Cambridge, £11,219 has been given for a school cycling project to provide adaptive equipment for special needs pupils with mobility issues, as well as improving fitness and life skills for all pupils.
- Abbey People in Cambridge has received £16,000 to set up a mobile youth club and coffee truck to encourage young people to engage more with their own education, employment and training by meeting local role models and adults.
At Cambourne Village College, the sensory garden project was started last year as part of the school’s RHS school gardening awards initiative and after-school gardening club which aim to encourage interest in horticulture and the local ecosystem.
The herbs and vegetables produced are used by the whole school community with gardening continuing during lockdown via an online blog and class. The sensory garden has been designed by students and the new greenhouse and pathways will enable them to take responsibility for day-to-day cultivation of flowers, herbs and vegetables.
Nicola Durant and Michelle Teo lead the project with a team of colleagues. They said the college was “very excited” to receive funding. “Lockdown has been a challenging period for a lot of our pupils and their families, but our previous gardening work in school and the community has already shown that gardening can be an excellent method of providing a calm sanctuary and increasing mindfulness to manage well-being and cope with re-integration anxiety.”
Shelford and Stapleford Youth Initiative’s project Copse#2 at Great Shelford Recreation Ground will also see young people getting outdoors and enjoying nature.
The scheme began three years ago when SSYI, in conjunction with Great Shelford Playscape, transformed a disused area of land into an outdoor wild play area for the community with willow structures, benches, planting and landscaping.
This will now be enlarged with permanent den structures, more woodland pathways and places to explore and socialise in the open air, while local young people working on the project can develop new skills and feel a valued part of the community.
Lead worker for SSYI, Zac Britton said work had already begun with everything to be completed by next summer. “The space is there to be used by all ages - young children will enjoy hiding in the dens, exploring the plants and wooded areas and seeing wildlife up close with the magnifying posts we are installing, while walkers will be able to appreciate nature as they exercise.”
Learning crucial travel safety awareness skills and participating in outdoor activities are just some of the aims behind Castle School’s cycling project, which will benefit its 200 pupils aged three to 19.
The special school’s deputy head Anne Haberfield said the money would provide a new storage shed to protect the cycles, as well as help fund a specially-adapted bike for wheelchair users. Further fund-raising will provide balance bikes, trikes, go-carts, helmets and maintenance equipment.
“The project will enable students with complex needs throughout the school to learn early biking skills and take part in a physical and sensory experience they might otherwise miss out on,” she explained. “They will be able to join in outside leisure activities alongside their peers, siblings and parents, and integrate more with friends in the playground, as well as learn travel skills, how to take risks safely, and improve their emotional and physical well-being.”
It will also help prepare them for schemes such as DofE expeditions, Bikeability and Balanceability programmes, and Cycle To Work.
Integrating young people into their local community is also the aim behind the Mobile Youth Club and Coffee Truck project by Abbey People.
The charity, a vibrant community group which works to improve life for Abbey residents in Cambridge, has partnered with Cambridge United Community Trust to transform a former education truck, donated by Network Rail, into a mobile centre where young people can mix with local role models and adults, thereby engaging more fully with their education, training or employment.
Reverend Stuart Wood of Barnwell Baptist Church, who is on the Abbey People executive committee, said: “We have already taken delivery of the truck. We are hoping to work with the young people and apprentices from Marshalls to fit it out. Once it is fully converted, the youth club will be open to all young people aged 13-19, providing leisure and sports activities, while the Coffee Truck will operate as a mobile café and provide a training opportunity for young people.”
Cllr John Williams, Lead Cabinet Member for Finance at South Cambridgeshire District Council, said: “It’s very pleasing to see the wonderful opportunities these one-off grants for four such diverse projects will offer the children and young people involved in them. Encouraging physical and mental well-being and helping to build confidence and a greater connectivity with their communities, they will provide lasting benefits for the long term.”
Cllr Anna Smith, Executive Councillor for Communities at Cambridge City Council said: “I’m delighted to see these funds used in such an innovative way to support young people. It’s especially good to see projects which are going to help young people take more control of their own learning, such as the Abbey Coffee Truck project, and work to make cycling more accessible for young people with complex needs. I look forward to hearing from the groups involved about the progress of these great initiatives.”
Cllr Simon Bywater, Chairman of Cambridgeshire County Council’s Children and Young People’s Committee, added: “I am delighted that this funding has been distributed to such worthwhile causes. All these projects will benefit our young people, helping them to contribute positively to the community and emerge with confidence from the lockdown restrictions earlier in the year.”