The Grow Wild Olympics at Skelton Grange

Grow Wild content editor Alice visited Skelton Grange in Leeds, one of our funded community projects for 2017...

Unlike the Olympics, there are no spectators when it comes to ‘Wild Games’, or so I was to discover when I rolled up my sleeves at Skelton Grange in Leeds.

A huge smile welcomes me as I enter the brightly decorated Skelton Grange Environment Centre, photos of happy faces and colourful handprints adorn the walls, floor to ceiling.

“You must be Alice,” Caroline Crossley, operations lead at the centre greets me. Skelton Grange will celebrate 25 years in June and Caroline has been here from the start.

“When we first started it was an empty field, completely derelict,” Caroline tells me “We took the spare land around the power station and have gradually grown and evolved it with woodland, ponds, meadows; all different features to interest and educate people in the natural world.”

All of the work at Skelton Grange is done by volunteers from the local community and Caroline takes great pride in ensuring they get the most out of their experiences.

“Tea and biscuits is the key,” she laughs, as we sit chatting at a table of volunteers. Today they are learning how to create wild flowers from clay with artist Anna Whitehouse. I’d asked Caroline what makes volunteers want to come back again and again.

“There’s never any doubt that you’re welcome here,” Louise, 26, a volunteer who also ran a Grow Wild youth project last year, joins in with our conversation.

“You always feel appreciated and it’s really fun!” she says.

Caroline herself started off as a volunteer at the centre when it began 25 years ago. “It really feels like I have one big crazy family here,” she smiles “and it just keeps getting more and more people in it, through the generations. We’ll have people coming to the celebration day in June who volunteered here with me 25 years ago and now they run other centres across the country. It’s good because it shows the younger volunteers what sorts of things you can go on to do after.

“The volunteers are who make this place,” Caroline says, “I just do the infrastructure these days, but they bring the skills, the energy and new ideas.” The table seems to agree, as I scan their smiles and a few blushed cheeks.

“This is one of the 10% most disadvantaged wards in the UK,” she adds “and a lot of people who come here have had very little interaction with nature, if any at all. For some it’s the first time they’re actively encouraged to touch and smell. They’re used to being told nature is dirty and ‘you can’t or you mustn’t’, we ride roughshod through that.” she laughs.

“It’s a real privilege to be able to show someone how to access something as amazing as nature, it’s such an intrinsic part of their lives, even if they don’t know it yet. And wild flowers are a fantastic place to start because you get to experience the whole cycle from seeds, to pollinators.”

After lunch we head outside for some Wild Games, a novel method of sowing wild flowers developed by Sussex University and adapted by project lead here Toby Roberts, where seeds are scattered through a variety of team games. The spirit of Skelton Grange takes me over and I swap my notepad and pen for gloves, and take to the playing field. I mean soil.

First up the patch needs to be cleared of stones and roots and what better way to get it done than with a healthy dose of competition. We split into 3 groups and are given a bucket each, first one to fill it is the winner.

Next up the ‘five-legged shuffle’. A three-legged race type affair, designed to flatten out the soil a little. Extra points for not falling over!

Fun though it is, there are still some patches that need to be walked on, before the whole thing is raked over lightly. “We don’t have a game for the raking yet,” laughs Toby, “So if you can think of one, let me know.”

Now we’re ready to sow the seeds. They are held in circular containers with holes, cleverly attached to the bottom of 2 frisbees, so that as they are thrown, the seeds fly out and land all over the patch. It takes a little while to hone our technique, but we’re getting there!

After a few games of frisbee and not forgetting frisbee golf; where the aim is to throw the frisbee from one side of the patch to the other, reaching the hula hoop (i.e. the golf ball hole) in as little throws as possible; almost all the seeds have been sown. Note: The hoop is moved between each round to ensure an even dispersal of seeds.

Next up it’s a relay race, moving across and around the patch alternately.

And finally, it’s time for my favourite, seed rounders. A familiar game with a twist, whereby a clump of seeds and clay is smacked with a bat as hard as possible, scattering them far and wide across the patch. Safety goggles are a wise move with this one!

Whether or not the games are really a success, will, of course, be determined by how well the wild flowers grow… But one thing’s for sure, Skelton Grange is proving that sowing wild flowers really can be all fun and games. 

Apply for community project funding 2018! 

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