Watch as Sunderland students explain the benefits of opening their new eco garden

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Five months later, the students have harvested a wide range of produce including sweetcorn, lettuce, onions, carrots, beetroot, sprouts and potatoes, some of which have been taken home by the students while other vegetables are used in the school canteen.

Students have created eight planting beds, a polytunnel for growing food that prefers warmer conditions, planted fruit trees that provide cherries, pears and apples, and cleared the old “fruit cage” where blackberry and raspberry bushes grow.

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With the garden’s grand opening this week, Eco Club members have also created “mammal hotels” and plan to install beehives to produce their own honey and a worm farm to break down waste products from the school kitchen.

Niall Aston, 14, said: “What I like best is when something as small as a small seed grows into something we can use and eat. I’m not the greatest in the classroom and prefer hands-on learning outdoors.

“I’ve tried some of the produce and it tastes a lot better knowing I grew it myself.”

Darcie Peters, 15, added: “When we started I didn’t think the garden would look so good. It’s a truly eco-friendly initiative that makes you aware of where your food comes from and why it’s important not to waste it.”

Sandhill View Academy students Charlie Hutchinson and Macie Sloane take a look at the school’s eco-garden. Picture by FRANK REID

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The garden has also had a positive impact on some of the school’s more demanding students.

Headteacher Jill Dodd said: “It’s amazing the progress the students have made and it really gives them a sense of the whole field to fork process.

“Our BRIDGE students may struggle to engage in the classroom, but they loved getting out in the garden. Many of them find it calming and it really encourages teamwork and social skills.

Sandhill View Academy student Mitchell Peggis tends to the bulbs in the school’s eco garden. Picture by FRANK REID

“A different environment can often give other children the chance to develop.”

The garden has also had a positive effect on the mental health of the children.

Geography teacher and project manager Aidan Hodgson said: “Getting out into the fresh air and back to nature can often be very therapeutic.

“It’s a stress-free environment and sometimes the repetitive nature of gardening can help clear your mind.”

Sandhill View Academy students Payton Lancaster and Jay Ferry in the polytunnel with some of the harvested crops Picture by FRANK REID

Sharing this attitude is Charlie Hutchinson, 13, who added: “I come every Monday to help in the garden and I really enjoy it. It helps improve my mental health as it keeps me calm and distracts me from any worries.”

Now that the garden is in place, the products will also be used in food technology classes to enable pupils to prepare their own meals, and Mr Hodgson also hopes this will be a learning resource for the whole school.

He said: “We use it as a learning resource in geography, of course, but it’s also used by the science department and on nice days the English department has started bringing students here to read.

“The ultimate goal is for the students to start their own nursery that is self-sustaining, with profits from the produce sold being reinvested back into the garden.”

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