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Planting the Seeds of Curiosity: Garden Refurbishment Commences at St Malachy’s

2nd June 2022

By facilitating a participatory research approach, a new QCAP initiative is helping to refurbish a community garden at St. Malachy Primary School in the Market

Dr. Gareth Robinson

The wildlife garden at St Malachy’s Primary School—once the pride of the Market community in South Belfast—has attracted many famous visitors over the years. It was officially opened in 2001 by Mary McAleese, President of Ireland at the time, and was later visited in 2004 by Professor Sir Peter Cane, then Director of Royal Botanical Gardens Kew, who awarded the school an Eco-Schools green flag for its contribution to the local environment. Its thriving wildlife also attracted the attention of the BBC, appearing in a show presented by Alan Titchmarsh and Darryl Grimason in 2007. Sadly, however, due to shifting priorities within education around that time, the garden, and its pond area became too time consuming to maintain and secondary to the school’s curricular needs.

Extensive changes were made to the NI Curriculum in 2007 and in many cases schools across Northern Ireland had to redeploy resources to implement new thematic areas. The ‘World Around Us’ area of learning, which is very broad in the topics it covers, presented teachers with an opportunity to be creative in how Geography, History, Science and Technology could be taught. Yet, without adequate training and resource, it also became a challenge for instructional practice. Science, in particular, was often sidelined in favour of topics that teachers felt more comfortable with. Now, some 15 years after the curriculum revision, school gardens are commonly used as a fantastic resource for enquiry-based learning and a space where pupils can explore topics related to the ‘World Around Us’.

As an investment in the school and local community by Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) and QCAP, the garden once again received some famous visitors—the QUB Gardens and Grounds team! On the 31st of May, the team began to remove ivy from the trees and cut back areas that had overgrown around the paths, with the help of some very capable pupils with green fingers, from Mrs. Magee’s P6 class. The class also worked together to build some new bird box homes for the garden’s resident Robins. This effort marks the beginning of the full pond refurbishment taking place later in the year and the first activity of our QCAP Participatory Action Research (PAR) pond project.

The PAR project aims to re-establish the garden as a resource for learning and well-being within the community, and to maximise its educational relevance for St Malachy’s primary school. Part of the project’s ambition is to encourage curiosity and engagement with STEAM subjects across the community. We will be supporting the teachers to develop investigative activities linked to the NI curriculum; whilst promoting pupil ownership of the garden by involving them in the design, chronicling, and construction of the pond area; and co-developing a broad educational experience for the school, by leveraging the technical resources and expertise available across a range of QUB departments.

We’re sure that once finished, the St Malachy’s wildlife garden will be receiving visitors from far and wide!

You can read more about the history and original development of the St Malachy’s primary school garden by clicking here.

For information about biodiversity and environmental news at QUB click here, and follow @greenatqueens on Twitter.