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

Pupils from Sandhill View Academy have been celebrating a bumper harvest as their eco-garden is proving to be of benefit to their education, physical health and mental wellbeing.

When the Echo visited the garden on a cold wet February day, the school’s Eco Club were just in the process of clearing the area and creating planting beds.

Five months on and the students have been harvesting a wide array of produce including sweetcorn, lettuces, onions, carrots, beetroot, sprouts and potatoes, some of which have been taken home by pupils, with other vegetables being used in the school canteen.

The pupils have created eight planting beds, a polytunnel to grow foods which prefer warmer conditions, planted fruit trees supplying cherries, pears and apples, and cleared the old “fruit cage” which is home to blackberry and raspberry bushes.

With the garden’s grand opening taking place this week, Eco Club members have also created “mammal hotels” and are planning to install bee hives to produce their own honey and a wormery to breakdown waste produce from the school kitchen.

Niall Aston, 14, said: “What I like most is seeing something as small as a little seed grow to something we can use and eat. I’m not the greatest in the classroom and prefer hands-on learning outside.

"I’ve tried some of the produce and it tastes much better knowing I’ve grown it myself.”

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

Sandhill View Academy pupils Charlie Hutchinson and Macie Sloane cast their eyes over 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 challenging pupils.

Headteacher Jill Dodd said: “It’s unbelievable the progress the pupils have made and it really gives them an idea of the whole field to fork process.

"Our BRIDGE students may struggle to engage in the classroom but have loved coming out into the garden. Many of them find it calming and it really builds teamwork and social skills.

Sandhill View Academy pupil Mitchell Peggis tends to the onions in the school's eco garden. Picture by FRANK REID

"A different environment can often give other children a chance to flourish.”

The garden has also had a positive impact on children’s mental health.

Geography teacher and project lead, Aidan Hodgson, said: “Getting out in the fresh air and getting back to nature can often be very therapeutic.

"It’s a no pressure environment and sometimes the repetitive nature of gardening can help to clear your mind.”

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

It’s a sentiment shared by Charlie Hutchinson, 13, who added: “I come to help out in the garden every Monday and I really enjoy it. It helps improve my mental health as it keeps me calm and takes my mind off any worries.”

With the the garden now established, the produce is also going to be used in Food Technology lessons for pupils to prepare their own meals and Mr Hodgson also hopes it will provide a whole school learning resource.

He said: “We obviously use it as a learning resource in Geography but it’s also being used by the Science Department and on nice days the English Department have started bringing students here to read.

"The ultimate aim is for students to create their own market garden which will be self-sustainable with profits from produce sold reinvested into the garden.”