Francis Beckett visits an environmental education centre which has been created on the site of a cement works
A new environmental education centre has been carved out of an acre of derelict land which its owners, Blue Circle Cement, did not originally know what to do with. It opened to local primary schools last month.
The land was part of the company's site near Ipswich in Suffolk. As late as autumn 1994 all it contained was a long-disused warehouse full of rubble, a rotting platform beside a disused railway line, and some overgrown scrub land where no one had walked for years.
The scrub land is now called the Green Triangle and contains a pond, rockery, waterfall and butterfly garden, as well as "beastie bins" containing small insects and arthropods. The pond is small and heart-shaped, and will be used for studying pond life and for "pond dipping" - taking samples of the water and analysing them.
The Green Triangle also has a living willow arch made of interleaved willow branches, tall enough to allow a nine-year-old to pass under it. Some of its first users from Year 5 at Sproughton Primary School explain its use: in the spring it will flower - or "leaf out and be very pretty" as eight-year-old Hannah Cranwell puts it. Michael Carter, nine, helped build it. "It was very hard work, weaving all those willows in and out," he says.
Pupils at 20 primary schools helped to design the Green Triangle, and each school taking part has designed a mosaic which has been set into a circular seat in a patio area.
The disused railway line has a new platform beside it. There will be no trains, but there will be a mural containing elements designed by pupils studying GCSE art, design and technology at Claydon and Northgate High Schools. The centrepiece will be a train which will appear to be coming out of the wall, an idea offered by James Lakeman, who received a prize of Pounds 20. Three others also received Pounds 20 for their ideas and two received Pounds 10.
The ideas were put together by Phil Stern, art teacher at Claydon High School. They will be clearly visible to anyone travelling by train between London and Norwich, because the disused Blue Circle railway line runs alongside the main railway.
The warehouse is now a classroom and visitor centre and houses a computer as well as teaching materials for those using the other facilities. "It is amazing to compare the site now to the way it looked only one year ago," says the general manager of the Blue Circle works, Stephen Joyce. The cost of putting it all together has been liberally shared around. Blue Circle provided all the manpower, and the materials were donated by other local companies.
The local education authority, the Suffolk Partnership (which brings together education and business) and BT put in a total of Pounds 5,500 to equip the classroom. The LEA also provided teachers to help put it all together. Chief among these was Nigel Hookway, who teaches at Heath County Primary School in Kesgrave. At the end of last year he was spending more than half the week at the centre, preparing all the educational materials which will be used there, and training Blue Circle staff to act as guides when schools visit the centre.
Blue Circle staff will take school parties on a guided tour of the cement works, and Nigel Hookway has been helping them know what they are dealing with. Each has spent a day training with him, finding out the background to the national curriculum, the reasons schools will want to visit, and the contents of the activity boxes he has provided. He has been explaining the sort of language to use with children, and "I've been telling them how children are likely to behave when they see a 40-ton bulldozer rolling past them."
Blue Circle staff will also take the bookings, and he has told them to make a note of special requirements. Are there any disabled children? Do they require a quarry visit? Nigel Hookway recommends one: you get a chance to see hawks being sent up to frighten away the seagulls.
The centre will take 40 children at a time and primary schools from Sussex can book themselves in free of charge, for whole or half days. In September the plan is to open the centre to secondary schools as well.
Duncan Macpherson, chairman of Suffolk education committee, says the centre is "ideal for school visits and will help prepare young people for the world of work. I hope we are going to make 100 per cent use of it."
Catherine Carruthers, regional director of South East England Business in the Community, is enthusiastic: "What's good for the community is good for business and what's good for business is good for the community." She sees the project as showing a company as "a good neighbour".
The Green Triangle and Blue Circle Cement works, Claydon, near Ipswich. Contact Pam Walker, Education Business Partnership Manager, tel: 01473 264937, or Blue Circle Cement, tel: 01473 830213.
Use of the centre is free. A transport subsidy is available to schools within Suffolk. Key stage 1 and 2 curriculum materials and teacher's notes available