Friday Hero

7th October 2005 at 01:00
Ian Merritt has made a blooming marvellous difference at Belfairs high school, near Southend, in Essex. When deputy headteacher Linda Burrage looks out of her office window, she sees a sea of pink petals bobbing in the breeze and it's all down to the groundsman and gardener Belfairs took on just two years ago.

Contractors had failed to do a good job on this three-acre site so the school decided to go it alone. "What a catch we made with Ian!" says Ms Burrage. Originally a printer by trade, but with a brother in the landscaping business, Ian has a passion for gardening and a green-fingered talent.

The school is lucky to have such a big site with space for rugby pitches, football fields and athletics tracks - all surfaces which need care and attention. "When I think of Ian I have this picture of a bright red mower towing a bright red trailer and a man on top tearing through our grounds," says Ms Burrage, who nominated Ian for our flowers, champagne and chocolates.

Speedy he may be, but Ian does a deft and careful job in the gardens he has created, tending flowering baskets outside the school entrance, or planning new borders to replace scrubby, worn-out patches of earth. These days flowers are growing outside most of the classroom windows.

"It was bland and a bit brutal before," says Ms Burrage, adding that the 1,200 students aged 11-18 "really respect" Ian's work. They are especially grateful for the remembrance garden he made for a student who died of meningitis last December.

On rainy days, Ian turns his hand to all sorts of DIY jobs inside the school. Over the summer holidays he came in early every morning to decorate the Year 11 girls' toilets a bright shade of pink. "The girls just love it."

Heroes are out there, but we need you to reveal them in all their glory.

Think of the person in your school - teacher, classroom assistant, governor, cook - who always goes the extra mile. Then tell us about them in a letter or email to Sarah Bayliss at the address above. Go on, they deserve recognition. (Flowers kindly supplied by Marks Spencer.)

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