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Taking The Long View

Susie Grainger 2nd from left and some of her Learning-from-the-Land participants earlier in the summer, on the South Lawns at Lowther Castle

Lowther Castle & Gardens Trust has announced its new educational project, Learning-from-the-Land and celebrates its first participant on the scheme to have won an apprenticeship.

At the beginning of this year, Jim Lowther and the trustees of Lowther Castle & Gardens Trust (LCGT) embraced their long-held ambition to focus more intently on community-based activities – both at Lowther Castle and around the Lowther Estate. To this end, the trustees created an educational project. Under the banner Learning-from-the-Land, young people, many of whom need a more practical approach to education, would be able to come to Lowther and learn land-based skills. They would range in age from 14-24 years old. They would be put forward to sit the John Muir Award, to gain a newly created employability award, to sit specially devised NVQs and finally, all things being equal, they would be given work experience placements – or even better, apprenticeships.

To run this project, LCGT began to look for an educational partner. The charity struck up a friendship with the Ernest Cook Trust, an organisation founded in 1952 which specialises in helping children to gain opportunities to learn through the land. Hand in hand, the LCGT and ECT set to work and began to create one of the most exciting community educational programmes in the northwest.

By March 2019, Susie Grainger had been appointed as the spearhead of the project. Formerly of Eden Rivers Trust and Newton Rigg, a mother, forester, gardener and all-round committed and highly knowledgeable outdoors person, Susie became the project’s Outdoor Education Officer. She began to contact schools, colleges and other youth support organisations in Cumbria. She worked on creating programmes and contacting future employers. Her brief was to reach out to young people in the wider Lowther catchment, give them learning opportunities that they might not otherwise receive, give them hope and employment options where they might have none and all the while, help land-based skills to remain on the employment agenda.

Only six months into her appointment, Susie has successfully run 600 volunteer days, seen 22 young people from her programme receive John Muir awards and helped one course participant, James Lowdon aged 17 (pictured below with Susie in the gardens at Lowther Castle) become a full-time gardener’s apprentice.

“The Learning-from-the-Land project,” said Susie this week, “has got off to a truly great start. Our ambition for the first year was to build up networks of local schools and organisations who would help us help young people. In fact, we have far outstripped this. Ullswater Community College, Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Trinity Carlisle, Morton Manor and Gilford Centre have all had students involved. Newton Rigg College, Carlisle College, Cumbria Youth Offending, Right2Work, Building Better Outcomes and the Cumbria Community Volunteer Service have become partners in the project. And we are working with the John Muir Trust, the Rivers Trusts, Natural England, the Woodland Trust, the National Park Authorities, Cumbria Constabulary, Outward Bound and various Duke of Edinburgh Award groups to share ideas, opportunities and resources that can spread the Learning-from-the-Land objectives.”

“So far, with all our volunteer days, we have lambed 1500 sheep, removed 500 metres of fencing (only another 30,000m to go!), have built 150 bird-boxes, 30 tree-cages, done woodland management, garden maintenance and restoration and worked on creating wildflower meadows.”

“James was one of our first recruits – he had previously worked part-time in the café at Lowther Castle – and took part in our first John Muir Award course. We are delighted that he has now been offered an apprenticeship to work alongside the gardening team at the castle, and look forward to many more such positive stories.”

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