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Community day sees students commit 300 hours to local causes

With onsite reporting by Eleanor Suh, Student Journalist

Students undertook a range of tasks including nature projects, renovation and teaching support

A new initiative has seen an enthusiastic group of 60 Year 12 students, aged 16-17 years, take to the local community to volunteer their time for a diverse range of organisations spread throughout Lewisham.

The Community Day is a partnership between Colfe's, a co-educational private day school in Lee, in the London Borough of Lewisham, and The Brun Bear Foundation.

The students devoted a remarkable 300 hours painting, serving lunches, working with school children, conserving local wildlife, assisting with dance classes, bingo games, and even re-building pizza ovens!

Abbotshall Healthy Lifestyle Centre

At Abbotshall Healthy Lifestyle Centre, a charity-run neighbourhood community centre that promotes healthy living, a group of six students primary task was repainting a cabin used for assorted, and often free, communal activities, which means the centre is especially reliant on volunteers. "The students did such an amazing job many of our customers thought the cabin was new!" said Abbotshall's centre manager and events organiser, Maria Menzies. "We would love to have them back again!" For Emily Gabay the placement was a meaningful way of getting insight and getting involved in a local community, a sentiment echoed by classmate Cerennaz Altunok who said volunteering was a "relaxing but fulfilling experience".

Before and after: The students did such an amazing job many thought the cabin was new

Taking advantage of the exceptional June weather there were a number of outdoor placements including Sydenham Gardens, Creekside Discovery, Rushey Green Primary School, St Mary’s therapeutic garden and Wild Cat Wilderness.

Sydenham Garden

At Sydenham Garden, a wellbeing centre aiding individuals in their recovery from mental and physical ill-health in Lewisham through the use of gardens, a nature reserve, and activity rooms, students helped renovate an earth oven which can now be used for pizza making. "It's a job we've been wanting to do for ages but just haven't been able to get around to," said Sydenham Garden, Growing Lives Coordinator, David Lloyd. "And now thanks to Colfe's School and The Brun Bear Foundation we've had an amazing team of students who cracked on with the job and made good and cheerful progress."

Pizza delivery: The students toiled to restore an earth oven which can now make pizzas

Creekside Discovery Centre

An equally glowing report was received from Creekside Discovery Centre's Paddy Hayes. "The students were very interested in the work we do and keen to support us on the day. They were willing and able to complete a variety of helpful tasks including removing invasive species which is a really important part of our work. Creekside is one of the most biodiverse landscapes in London and comprises a nature park and creekside. It has up to 250 species flower during the year but some of them flower at different times. Having the students here has meant we have been able to continue our habitat management during a busy time of year and prepare some resources for future learning sessions in our local community." The importance of Creekside Discovery Centre was not lost on student Max Urwin: "These habitats are something we can only really have if we care about them... If we step up we look after the local wildlife and have a nice park area for people in the area so we should preserve it."

Students were deployed to Creekside, one of the most biodiverse landscapes in London

Rushey Green Primary School

At Rushey Green Primary School in Catford students were split between tending an outdoor play area and helping in the nursery whether tidying or supporting the lessons. Headteacher Lisa Williams reports that the feedback from staff was wonderful. "The students were polite, enthusiastic, amenable, and genuinely hardworking. We had a great experience. The help they provided was hugely beneficial to the team. We are happy to continue to support this community initiative."

A volunteer tidying at the nursery that forms part of Rushey Green Primary School

St Winifred's Catholic Primary School

Neighbouring St Winifred's Catholic Primary School, Michelle Carey, also found the Colfe's students really helpful. "The children at our school loved spending time with them." The feeling was mutual. Student Freddie Chamberlain felt helping out at a nursery had been a great experience that has taught him a lot.

St Mary’s Therapeutic Garden

St Mary’s Therapeutic Garden sits within the grounds of St Mary's church and for six years has been a valued communal space where the general public as well as patients from neighbouring Lewisham hospital can garden or simply sit and rest. The garden is also intended as a haven for wildlife, and a wildflower meadow is being cultivated to attract bees, butterflies and other pollinators. The students were extremely productive: in addition to clearing away builders' rubbish and covering a recently laid drip hose pipe with bark chippings, they also spent time watering and planting summer bedding plants in a raised bed.

St Mary’s Therapeutic Garden is a valued communal space. Student tasks included removing rubble and other waste in danger of falling into the pond

"We were very pleased to have the support of the three pupils who came, because the builder’s rubble had just been dumped close to our pond, and was in danger of it falling into the pond," explained St Mary's Marion Watson.

"There had been no rain for a long time, and the ground was extremely dry and the drip hose pipe needed to be quickly covered as it could easily be vandalised. The Year 12 pupils were extremely polite and worked really hard. They listened to instructions and were able to completely carry them out."

Wild Cat Wilderness

At Wild Cat Wilderness, a natural wilderness off Catford Hill for locals to explore nature and the wildlife, learn new outdoor skills or crafts, and come together, students energetically watered and cleared pathways. Student Joshua Cook said he found the day 'impactful'. "It was good to get hands-on experience and actually get stuck in for the benefit of the community".

Students energetically cleared pathways at Wild Cat Wilderness, a natural wilderness off Catford Hill

Lewisham Toy Library

Indoor placements included stints at Lewisham's Toy Library, located in Lewisham Shopping Centre. The Toy Library works much in the same way as a regular library. Patrons borrow and return toys however there is the added value that it makes toys accessible for all and also contributes to a more sustainable economy at the heart of the local community. Two students took up the placement and tasks included cleaning toys, organising shelves and labelling jigsaws. Both the students and the staff at the Toy Library said they would be keen to maintain contact after the placement.

Students and the staff at the Toy Library plan to maintain contact after the placement

Hummingbird Senior Citizens Club

Elsewhere in the borough, Hummingbird Senior Citizens Club at St Laurence Centre in Catford was a hive of activity as students helped prepare and serve lunch and support the bingo and dance classes. Hummingbird Senior Citizens Club is South East London’s premium Afro-Caribbean lunch club for the over-55s, with weekly attendances of 80-110 members.

In step: students supported dance classes that can draw weekly attendances of 80-110 members

The following charities and community organisations also provided placements for the students: 5 Steps Nursery; Sports4All; East Greenwich Legal Advice Clinic (EGLAC); Greener and Cleaner Samaritans (Lewisham, Greenwich, Southwark); Crystal Palace Community Trust and Ecology Garden.

Many of the students have said they are keen to continue volunteering, and I hope that we continue our fruitful collaboration with The Brun Bear Foundation

Reflecting on the day, Colfe's Director of School Partnerships and Head of Religion and Philosophy, Zoe Kendrick, who coordinated the project for Colfe’s, said: “We are so proud of this industrious and energetic group of students. The importance of community is at the heart of what Colfe’s is about, and being able to take part hands-on is the best way for our pupils to see what this means in practice. They undertook the range of activities in great spirit, and could see for themselves the difference this makes. I think without exception they also got a great deal out of the experience themselves. Many of the students have said they are keen to continue volunteering, and I hope that we continue our fruitful collaboration with The Brun Bear Foundation.”

We look forward to continuing our productive partnership with Colfe's and creating meaningful opportunities for students to thrive and make a positive impact in the community.

Founder of The Brun Bear Foundation Edwin Lampert said "We are delighted to have partnered with Colfe's on the recent Community Day and are excited about the future collaborations to come. This partnership is a natural evolution of our ongoing work with the school, which includes providing students with work placements, mentoring and internships. It was a pleasure to attend the Community Day in person and witness the remarkable contributions made by the students. We were truly inspired by their dedication, and it was heart warming to see the extent to which their efforts were appreciated by the participating organisations. We look forward to continuing our productive partnership with Colfe's and creating meaningful opportunities for students to thrive and make a positive impact in the community."

The Brun Bear Foundation is a Lewisham-based registered charity that seeks to create better futures locally, globally and in the animal kingdom. To date, the charity has donated thousands of pounds to a mix of local, medical and animal welfare charities and created an annual scholarship award.


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