Birds, bats, butterflies and bees – Radius Housing has teamed up with Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful (KNIB) and Be Safe Be Well Men’s Sheds to bring a unique biodiversity programme to schools and communities across Northern Ireland this summer. Today, the Minister for Communities, Deirdre Hargey, visited St Matthew’s Primary School, Short Strand, to see the fruits of the growing project they have undertaken in partnership with Nettlefield Primary School.
The Department for Communities provides Good Relations funding to support Shared Housing schemes and their communities. This contributes to the Executive’s overall approach to creating a shared society.
Minster Hargey said “My Department is committed to delivering a shared society and I am fully aware of the extremely important role of housing in bringing our community together. To date, 45 shared housing schemes totaling 1480 units have either been delivered or are under development. Not only are these schemes providing new, high quality homes for people from different backgrounds to live alongside each other but each scheme is also supported with additional funding so that projects like this can be delivered to promote good relations.”
In May 16 schools and almost 60 Radius Housing Schemes and community groups got digging for the Growing Wild Diversity Project. The project aims to promote inclusion, improve physical and mental wellbeing, and tackle social isolation, through planting and nature projects, which will also bring wider environmental and community benefits to the local area.
The project has provided cross community schools and community groups with Biodiversity Kits made by the Be Safe Be Well Men’s Sheds along with raised planting beds. The kits contain bird and bat boxes, hedgehog boxes, butterfly and bee houses, to support these species to thrive. Each school also has benefited from a new biodiversity growing garden designed and installed by KNIB, with the help of pupils, which will help them grow a range of summer fruits, including blackberries, strawberries and plums.
To support the learning aspect of the programme KNIB designed a new Biodiversity learning component to their Eco Schools Programme for the schools involved. KNIB & Radius staff also delivered bespoke workshops to the community groups, to accompany the online training kits.
The Radius Growing Wild programme is largely funded through the T:BUC Shared Housing programme. Radius has both completed and proposed shared housing developments in 9 areas across Northern Ireland. The Good Relations Plan for each includes ‘bridging’ events with the wider community which encourage a range of outcomes including Health & Wellbeing and Education & Training.
This project aims to develop cross community working within Radius’ T:buc / Housing for All shared housing areas and beyond, by bringing people from different backgrounds together for training and to develop and deliver small environmental projects. The Schools project has paired local schools in each Shared Housing area to facilitate cross community working.
Minister Hargey added: “It was a pleasure to hear from the children today who spoke with such enthusiasm about this Growing Wild Biodiversity project. They are getting so much enjoyment from the scheme which has so many benefits to them individually and to the wider community from a social and environmental perspective. I congratulate all those involved in this exciting project and wish all the schemes well for the future.”
Speaking at Melanie Rintoul from Radius Housing said “Biodiversity and looking after nature at a local level is becoming ever more important. As well as having a positive environmental aspect, growing plants, flowers, fruit and vegetables has an important role in health and wellbeing. With the Growing Wild project we wanted to encourage school children and community groups to develop good relations by working together to grow fruit and vegetables, and create wildlife homes for the insects and animals that are essential parts of the local ecosystems.
“We are delighted that so many have taken this challenge and got their hands dirty to get growing. These projects will go on over the summer and long into the future. The new skills picked up will allow all those involved to use their green fingers at home and the new relationships will encourage strong cohesive communities.
“For Radius, these projects help develop community relations and tackle social isolation. We have already seen the schools and community groups building new partnerships and friendships that will benefit the whole community in the future.”
Miss Aileen Browne, Principal of St Matthew’s Primary School and Nursery, said “Environment and biodiversity are extremely important elements of the curriculum, and the children at all ages are very aware of the role they play. As a city school, in an urban area we welcome the opportunity to encourage growing projects and the promotion of nature, and we have been delighted to work with Nettlefield PS in this project.”
Cheryl Fullerton from Nettlefield Primary School added “Working with St Matthew’s PS has been a great experience, as the children have learned more about the environment and watched their fruit plants flourish over the last few weeks. We all know how difficult the last year has been for school children, and biodiversity projects like this, that bring children and communities together are excellent ways to improve the lives of young people.”