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  • Writer's pictureLove Ballymena

Firmus Energy collaborates to develop outdoor learning space for special school in Antrim


Local natural gas company Firmus Energy, working with their principal contractor Kier Group have collaborated with a number of local Antrim based suppliers to develop an outdoor classroom for local pupils of Riverside School in Antrim.


Firmus Energy, Kier and a range of partners came together to give both their time and local supplies to transform a disused patch at the rear of the school into a fully accessible outdoor learning centre. The project will allow the school to enhance its curriculum to include learning and engaging on issues relating to sustainability and horticulture.


Neil Gallagher, Firmus Energy’s Sustainability Manager said,


“The opportunity to provide an outdoor learning area for the children was first discussed at the start of March 2020, however the interruption caused by Covid-19 delayed the delivery of the project. The pandemic impacted significantly on these pupils, who weren’t able to engage and learn in their normal environment. 


“This new outdoor space will further enhance their learning and skill development whilst having some fun along the way. Everyone is more aware of the importance of the natural world nowadays and it is a privilege to be able to make access possible for all pupils at Riverside School to this great resource.”   


Pupils will learn about horticulture, including practical aspects of planting, growing and watering both flowers and vegetables as well as caring for their new arrivals - chickens and hens. These activities are known to encourage children to express themselves and learn new transferable skills in an interactive and informal environment which they wouldn’t be able to achieve in a traditional classroom setting.

Firmus Energy and Kier volunteered over 250 hours to deliver the project and secured donations from supplier’s worth in the region of £10K. The fully interactive outdoor learning space included the installation of a polytunnel with fully accessible and adjustable work benches for children, adaptable for pupils with specific mobility needs or requiring chair access. 


Breda McPeake, Head of Foundation Years at Riverside School added,


“We are indebted to Firmus Energy, Kier and the local suppliers who created this inclusive learning space for our pupils. Over the course of the last three months, we have seen our outdoor area develop into a wonderful learning opportunity for all our pupils. 


“Our chickens are now safe in a custom-built coop and looked after by our pupils, who enjoy collecting eggs every day from them. We are looking forward to growing our own food and building on our life skills in this beautiful outdoor classroom.”


Suppliers provided a range of tools, materials, plants, and seeds which will enable the children to participate in practical lessons. Chicken coops and hen houses were also built.


Local suppliers who donated a range of resources included: DH Builders Suppliers; JP Corry, Homebase John Steel Agricultural Suppliers, MacBlair, Beatty Stores, Asda, McManus Hardware, Ben Vista Nursery, Harman Furniture, McQuillan Quarries, KPM Surfacing And Polytunnel NI.


Philip Boyd, Project manager at Kier said,


“Our collaboration with a range of suppliers shows what can be done with teamwork and a commitment to making a real difference to the lives of the kids at Riverside School. Creating an outdoor classroom has been conducive to learning and development and this will have a positive contribution to pupils’ development for years to come.


“Through engagement and consultation, the local business community came together to deliver a tailored project that met the needs of those who would benefit from it and allowed Riverside School teachers and wider staff to create a new dimension to their teaching”.   


Firmus Energy has had a long-standing relationship with Riverside School. Other projects they have collaborated on include providing a garden at the entrance to the school, planting trees around the perimeter of the grounds and providing a Christmas tree for the school.

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