A paler shade of green

Jean Maskell

Pupils at a Liverpool primary are being encouraged to conserve resources even old desks are recycled, as Jean Maskell reports.

Kensington Primary School in Liverpool has a fourth R on the curriculum - Recycling. Not an empty drinks can to be seen - they are eagerly squashed flat in the can-crusher to end up as re-cycled aluminium.

Pupils from the youngest four-year-old to the oldest at 11, are encouraged to care about the environment and conserve the Earth's resources. Nothing that can be repaired is ever thrown away - rather than buy new furniture, the school is gradually refurbishing its old chairs and tables at Dove Designs Workshop, a local charity that provides jobs jobs for people with mental illness. Infant head Jenny Comish is glad to help local employment and get a good deal for the school: "A new teacher's table costs Pounds 120; it's Pounds 50 to refurbish an old one that will last another 60 years!" Terraced houses border the red brick Victorian building in Brae Street. Beyond the school wall a derelict urban reservoir is a dangerous and forbidden attraction for children with nowhere to play. Few local children have gardens or the opportunity to find out about nature. But things began to change when the infant school won Pounds 500 in a competition from The Mersey Basin Trust to improve the environment. With the help of governors and parents, who got stuck in to do the digging and rebuild walls - using recycled bricks - part of the asphalt playground was transformed into a garden area with seats.

Planning and then caring for the garden has helped the children learn about plants and insects and increased their sense of responsibility. In its first year, the garden has not suffered any vandalism and the Environmental Trust has now agreed a grant for tools and plants for two years.

Jenny Comish is enthusiastic about the garden: "The play environment affects the way that children behave in school, they now have somewhere quiet to sit with their friends and behaviour has improved." And it's not just the children who benefit: "Parents sit out there too in the sun and have a chat after dropping the children off."

Friends of the Earth local groups development officer, Mike Childs, is confident environmental organisations are no longer considered eccentric and that their predictions and warnings from the Seventies have unfolded with chilling accuracy. "The 1990s is make or break. The biggest problem is climate change, leading to more storms, faster extinction of species that can't adaptIthe gasses that will produce that effect, say in 100 to 200 years, are being produced nowIsolutions are moving too slowly."

But he is optimistic, particularly about the role of schools. "More and more kids are switched on to the environmentIwhen we are out campaigning we notice that parents are dragged along by kids to sign our petitions."

Bryn Gorry, Kensington Junior head, believes children are more aware, "but awareness doesn't always impinge on their behaviour in their own environment. For example, litter is a constant battle."

The two headteachers at Kensington are now working on their greatest green challenge; to provide the school with green play space and a wildlife garden, with pond. They have been pressing for redevelopment of the derelict land alongside the school with the support of local MP Jane Kennedy. Consultation meetings with the local community led to the landowners, North West Water, seeking Pounds 300,000 of European funding to redevelop the old reservoir site for housing and community use.

Plans for green space, the wildlife garden and much-needed sports facilities are to be included in the scheme. If the bid is successful, not only will the school curriculum be enhanced but the quality of life for local children will be transformed.

In just 18 months, Kensington School has sown the seeds of a greener future;what the children of Kensington learn today may someday help them get jobs in new cleaner industries.

Bill Laar previews what's in store.

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