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The Skinners’ School – Roots & Shoots update Summer 2012

We here at The Skinners’ School in Tunbridge Wells in Kent have had a very busy time since we won the Silver Award at the Roots & Shoots Awards 2010. It was a joy to win the award for the hard work of the pupils to be recognised and it definitely spurred them on to keep our project going.
However we bettered the plan and extended our project to include some more skills and interests found within our school community!

Here is a summary of our activities:

1)     Closed Loop Irrigation System

We have formed an active STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Maths) Team, who along with Jerome Clegg the Physics Tech, Head of Science Mr Mead and Director of STEM Mr Moody are building a unique ‘closed loop’ irrigation system for the HEAL (Healthy Eating And Living) Garden.

The idea of ‘closed loop’ is that it mimics the cycles found in nature –  in this case the water cycle – by collecting rainwater from an adjacent roof, then using the sun’s energy  (via a solar panel) to provide power to pump water to a header tank, from where an electronic valve will automatically control a series of irrigation pipes buried in the ground.

The pupil team currently consists of STEM Team veterans and pupils Tom Cloke, Louis Hampton and Carl Thomas. A simplified outline of their design is shown here ( not everything is shown, as some of the key features of the  design are closely guarded secrets!)

The concept of ‘closed loop’ thinking is something we have been actively exploring and encouraging at Skinners’ over the past two years as it is a way we can all minimise waste, and instead look for other ways to reuse potentially valuable resources we might otherwise throw away. This particular model will be the ideal thing for gardeners who worry about watering their plants when away on holiday, or during a drought as the system is ‘automatic’ and self-regulating, releasing water only when the sensor  (not shown) detects dry soil.

Automatic watering systems do exist on the market, but they either use ‘mains’ water from a tap (ours collects continuously from rain fall) or uses mains electricity or battery power for the pump (ours uses solar), so we believe in this sense it is a unique design.

We have already had our first commission from a neighbouring school (Oakley Specialist School) that also has an organic garden that needs watering during the school holidays.

Who knows, if we are successful, the boys may even appear on Dragon’s Den one day!!

You May think that that project alone was enough for us but no, we always aim high and like to stay busy.
As part of the HEAL garden work we signed up to the ‘Bake You Lawn’ national project where we have planted seeds of wheat given to us from the project so we can harvest our own wheat, grind flour (ideally by hand but we may make a grinder to help!) and make bread all with a zero carbon foot print. We are now just waiting for the crop to be ready to be harvested and we’ll see if it’s as yummy as it sounds.

Back in Oct 2011 we made a few gallons of organic leek and potato soup also with zero carbon footprint for our annual Open Evening at the school all hand made by the boys and all eaten up super quickly by our passing guests. Our harvest that season gave us a plethora of fruit and vegetables such as pumpkins, goji berries, black berries, black currants, gooseberries, courgettes, tomatoes, potatoes, cucumber, sweetcorn, cauliflower, broccoli, rhubarb, strawberries, red and white onions, beetroot, leeks, peppers and chillies. All grown from seed plus we have herbs (lavender, thyme, dill, mint, chocolate mint, rosemary) which have been used in many dishes including to flavour homemade butter that we churned after a visit to a local dairy farm who showed us how easy it is. Then as luck would have it we were eligible for a pack of 65 tress though the Woodland Trust’s Jubilee celebration including fruit tress so not only will be one day have a fabulous Royal Oak at the garden’s entrance but an orchard of apples trees to add to the few saplings we had been donated. The saplings are only small still but we got 1 tiny apple last September and we have a couple of dozen this year.  I sense a pie making session in our near future!

Our garden site where all this happens is only 75m2 but we have expanded to have a cold frame on the school roof next to our solar panels and we hope in the next year to make another cold frame to grow more beautiful and delicious produce.

To make our garden look as good as what it holds we have collected tractor and sports car tyres to plant flowers, we have planted daffodil bulbs for the last 2 springs and we have the school’s DT department helping us to make laser cut signs.

One of our proudest moments was when we entered a RHS competition last year to design a flowerbed and we were then invited to Wisley Flower Show to build it. We were in the minority as a secondary school group but we thought is was so good we hope to make a duplicate at school which will become our symbol now too.

In school the pupils have been cooking again with local chefs including our friends from Wagamamas and making healthy pizzas as an off timetable activity in school. The mess proved they had great fun! Plus when we took a small group to the local dairy farm called Bore Place (which we have now done for 4 years in a row) we got to use their big kitchen to make a totally organic, chilli based menu with their onsite chef who is Scotish but comes in especially from Spain to help with the schools.

Our STEM team, as you can read, has been working so hard and another of their projects just won the school £1000 with a presentation on a sustainable building idea for the school. They had to learn all the stages of the building plan and even build an exactly to scale model of what it would like afterwards. This was all done in between their lessons during their own time… Truly dedicated pupils here at Skinners’!

So we are mega busy but working hard and reaping the rewards. We have a few more tricks up our sleeves but if you either have some ideas of what we could do next or if you would care to visit or just ask a question please don’t hesitate to contact me by e-mail at:

Good luck with your own projects!!!





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