RHS Green Plan-It ChallengeThe UK’s horticulture industry should be blooming – it contributes £10.4bn to the economy each year and employs 300,000 people. Yet the sector faces a skills crisis, with over 70 per cent of businesses struggling to find skilled workers, according to the industry’s 2014 Horticulture Matters report.

Most 18-year-olds believe careers in horticulture should only be considered by those who have ‘failed academically’, and almost half of under-25s see horticulture as an unskilled career, says the report.

A new project – Green Plan It Challenge – run by the Royal Horticultural Society and part-funded by ECT, aims to redress this by sowing seeds of interest and passion for horticulture among Year 8 and 9 students. The Trust has also supported the RHS Apprenticeships Scheme to help tackle the industry’s skills shortage.

Green Plan It Challenge aims to connect youngsters with urban green spaces, develop their understanding of horticulture, and help them build a range of employability skills.

The project is an extension of a pilot scheme in 2015, in which teams of six secondary school students competed to design a school or community garden, overseen by mentors from industry.

The pilot succeeded in shifting students’ perception, while students significantly improved their employability skills. The RHS also forged new relationships with schools, opening up opportunities for work placements and other horticultural training.

Now with ECT support, the Green Plan It Challenge is being extended to secondary schools in Bristol, Birmingham, Glasgow, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich and Yorkshire, aiming to engage 960 students in 160 schools.

RHS Head of Community Outreach, Andrea Van-Sittart, said it aims to give youngsters an inspiring insight into the world of plants, and into career opportunities in horticulture by meeting industry role models.

“That mentors from across the country have given up their time to invest in the next generation speaks volumes about the importance of both this project and the horticultural sector,” she said.

“This project could inspire a new generation of young people to undertake careers in horticulture and become garden designers, plant scientists, journalists or even the next Alan Titchmarsh.”

Round-up of latest grant awards

Each year the Trust donates £1.8m to a range of education initiatives throughout the UK. Here are just some of the truly inspiring projects benefiting from the latest round of ECT grants:

Story RepublicA new scheme in Camborne, Cornwall aims to improve young people’s literacy by fostering a love of writing, with the help of a £10,000 grant from ECT. The Story Republic, run by Kernow Education Arts Partnership, will work with 20 primary and secondary schools, involving children with professional writers, cartoonists, performers and other artists.

A project aiming to make Derbyshire’s Peak District a haven for bumblebees was awarded a £9,928 grant in September. Pollinating the Peak, led by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, will use fun, innovative ways to educate young people about bumblebees and other wild pollinators.

Carymoor Environmental TrustCarymoor Environmental Trust, an environmental conservation charity at a landfill site in Castle Cary in Somerset, has been awarded £9,029 to expand learning opportunities for schoolchildren. Each year its education programme attracts thousands of youngsters to tour the site, pictured left, where former landfill has been restored to a nature reserve.

In Bristol, a £5,600 grant to the Forest of Avon Trust’s Living Woodlands Project is helping bridge the gap between city schools and their local woodlands. The project will work with ten secondary schools and colleges, offering woodland activities and skills sessions for students.

And youngsters in Nottingham will soon be taking Night Walks in city nature reserves, run by not-for-profit company Ignite! to help them learn about the countryside. The project will run a series of walks after dark, in partnership with a Nottingham primary school, the University of Nottingham and a local artist, and supported by a £5,450 ECT grant.