In March 2009, The Works began a Schools Tree Planting Project at the former steelworks site in Blaenau Gwent. This practical project was to raise awareness of The Works and the Central Valley area and an opportunity to engage with the community.
The tree planting project was one which truly engaged school pupils and teachers. By giving children ownership of the project, the likelihood of vandalism was significantly reduced. As well as educating the children, and giving them a sense of pride in the ownership of the project, there were other benefits such as the links to ICT and ESDGC in the curriculum.
The tree planting project provided a unique educational experience for these children, as the area of the trees planted by the schools was plotted using GPS. On completion of the planting, each school received a certificate recording their participation and the GPS co-ordinates of their copse.
A PowerPoint presentation was developed to inform the pupils about the project, which was emailed to all schools so the pupils could re-write it and tell others about the project and what they did. Each participant was given a safety briefing and shown how to plant trees, and trees were given to children to be planted in their school grounds.
Thanks to the schools input, a new wooded area was developed. The planting of trees was part of a £700,000 landscaping project for the Central Valley – a linear park running from one end of the site to the other. It was one of the largest contracts of its kind to be awarded in Wales in recent years and was won by Port Talbot based Afan Landscapes.
In total, The Works expected around 10,723 woodland trees to be planted. Most of the trees planted by the pupils were grown from acorns and beechmast collected in the local area by schools a few years previously and grown on in the tree nursery. Some ash trees were also planted, of Welsh provenance stock.
This project altered the perception of the site for pupils and teachers by showing them the site under development, and by allowing them to be a part of the regeneration, they felt ownership of the project and the woodlands. The participants in the project are now part of the legacy of the site as they helped to establish a new woodland. The school pupils are proud of having been involved and are interested in the continued welfare of the trees.
In total, 37 schools and education projects were involved – with 200 pupils and 50 accompanying adults. For The Works, the project also meant working with colleagues from other departments in Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council, and officers and volunteers from Green Earth and Keep Wales Tidy.
A spokesperson for The Works said: ‘We were pleased with how the event went and tended to solve any small issues as the project progressed, such as the timings for transporting the pupils to the planting area. The biggest problem was the weather, so we planned to have the pupils out for a limited period with activities running in the Project Office for the rest of the time.’
This project was a great success, resulting in 395 trees being planted. A project of the kind could be replicated elsewhere in Wales, with the scale of the project dependant on the land available and the size of the group taking part in the planting.