A new reality in Gardeniser Community

Growing Connection logo
22 September 2023

Growing Connections CIC is a new community interest company which evolved from Heidi Seary and Keeley Smith working together to create online training for community gardens, school gardens, and city and care farms during Covid. They could see there was a big demand for further training which supported the managers, teachers, caretakers and facilitators of these spaces but very little that supported and networked these people in a way which would upskill them and make them better equipped to manage their green spaces. During the height of Covid, community gardens and city farms were one the few places that remained open and there was a huge surge in demand to visit and volunteer in these places at that time. Schools could also see that using their outdoor spaces to teach in would help students learn in new ways. 
Keeley and Heidi took their experience from delivering online training successfully and decided to turn it into a new company which would provide training and expertise to the community growing sector both online and face to face. In the UK there are over 3,000 community gardens and farms and many 100’s of schools provide outdoor gardens and farms. Heidi and Keeley are now the Directors of Growing Connection C.I.C.

Heidi was the Operations Manager at Social Farms & Gardens and managed European programmes for SF&G including Gardeniser Pro, and Hub which are European ECVET framework training programs that evolved from Erasmus Plus projects. Heidi worked for SF&G for 15 years with expertise in volunteering, governance and community engagement. She created, with European partners, the Gardeniser training that exists today. 

Teacher Keely is currently the Assistant CEO of Gloverspiece Mini Farm Group and oversees a care farm, animal sanctuary, college, and special educational needs school. Originally a teacher of English, she couldn’t resist the call of land-based - and has been teaching gardening and animal care for the last 14 years, including the support, design, and implementation of over 100 growing and farming projects in schools. She is also the chair of the School Farms Network.
Both Keeley and Heidi also delivered Learning Bubbles in the UK which was another Erasmus Plus project. Learning Bubbles was a collaboration between schools and community urban gardens with an aim to develop and test systems to take the classroom outside to enable outdoor learning and develop a system for the creation of new learning pathways. Keeley and Heidi helped develop resources for teachers to use in their delivery of outdoor learning and Keeley successfully piloted outdoor learning sessions at Gloverspiece.

The Growing Connections CIC will now provide expertise and consultancy, education, and training for community gardens, care farms, school farms and gardens, and city farms. We support these organisations and the staff and volunteers who work in these organisations to learn how to run, manage and work effectively and we deliver licensed and Continuous Professional Development training helping people to upskill and increase their knowledge and employment opportunities. 
Growing Connections has recently applied for UK National Lottery money to create three flagship schools demonstrating the impact of activities with plants and animals on: attainment, attendance, mental health, and engagement with education. The program devised will directly address the issues caused by the prolonged lockdown and social isolation and resulting anxieties for students at risk of exclusion; school refusers and looking after children struggling with a classroom environment. The pilots delivered for Learning Bubbles showed that:

“Learning Bubbles can make schools more sustainable when working with vulnerable students." (UC Leuven Limburg; Belgium). 

The success of the online training and the ability to develop and then pilot training over a few years is down to the funding we and our European partners had from Erasmus Plus and the ability to learn and network with other partners in a number of different countries. 
Growing Connections now plan to run the following courses which evolved from Erasmus Plus work: 

Gardeniser PRO

Gardeniser PRO supports and trains the key, professional role of community Garden manager or facilitator. The course is divided into 3 Modules and each Module includes different units with one or more learning outcomes. Each module includes different units and count towards ECVET Credits. Once the learner has completed the homework or the internship they can then go on to take the online test to gain the Gardeniser Pro license. Next course: 11-16th February 2024-Midlands locations, England

Gardeniser EDU

The Gardeniser EDU course explores how to engage and support children with social, emotional, and mental health problems in schools, how to engage with communities outside the school, and includes specific lesson plans for teachers on topics such as where food comes from, healthy eating, and an emphasis on outdoor learning. Through the Gardeniser EDU training materials learners will understand how to efficiently work with urban/community gardens and farms and increase their contribution to a more resilient city or community. School staff and supporters could include teachers, teaching assistants, caretakers, and governors.


Gardeniser GOV

The  Gardeniser GOV course explores how local government can better understand and actively support their community gardens and farms and demonstrates practical steps towards more resilient cities and towns with green spaces for all. Strong and inclusive communities underpinned by shared values and based on positive relationships and mutual respect are the building blocks for fair and balanced societies. Learners could include staff from Local Authorities or Municipalities who work in housing, planning, or community cohesion or could involve working with the police or with social workers.


Gardeniser train the trainers (HUB)

The course will run for 24 hours over 3 days and covers the modules and units of the Gardeniser courses. The course can only be taken by licensed Gardenisers who have completed Gardeniser Pro. By the end of the course, the aspirant Gardeniser trainer will have a good knowledge of useful training techniques as well as what and how to train the Gardeniser courses specifically. Aspirant trainers will be asked to take part in an additional 40 hours of training within an existing Gardeniser training course to complete their training and then go on to take the online test to gain the trainers' license.  
Heidi and Keeley are licensed Gardeniser trainers for all the Gardeniser courses. 


Cultivating Schools

This 8 week, online course delivered for 2 hours each week, covers:

  • The ethos behind why growing and keeping animals benefits both learning and wellbeing outcomes.
  • Learner engagement and supporting an alternative curriculum.
  • How to design and deliver a project that supports social, emotional, and mental health.
  • Ideas for sustainable and creative spaces.
  • The practicalities of working with schools and other education settings.
  • Creating a project that is valued and vital to staff, learners, parents and the community.
  • Planning and sustaining a project that is relevant to your setting
  • To find out more about us and the latest courses go to www.growingconnections.org.uk

Heidi and Kealey



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