Zara Downs attended Samuel Pepys School before moving to Shuttleworth College to study in the Farm College in Key Stage 4.
In the Farm College, Zara spent time working in one of two groups that alternated between projects with animals and projects with plants, landscape, and horticulture. It was during this time that Zara discovered her passion for gardening.
Zara said, “At Farm College, I knew in my mind that I would be good at gardening because I knew what I was doing looking after plants and wildlife. This is when I decided to myself that I would like to become a professional gardener.”
Upon graduating from Farm College, Zara enrolled with Cambridge Regional College, Huntingdon campus, to gain employability skills and study Horticulture with the Supported Learning team.
Zara continued, “When I arrived at CRC, my anxiety levels were 50/50, sometimes I was OK and sometimes I wasn’t. Working with the LEAP team saw my confidence grow again and I now feel like it is peaking and my anxiety levels have settled.”
To transition from education to employment, Zara moved onto a Supported Internship with CRC, during which she had planned to gain work experience with a local garden centre. Unfortunately, the national lockdown meant that Zara was unable to attend her work experience placement. As an alternative, she set about writing a project plan to revive the bedding areas of the Huntingdon garden.
To mark the one-year anniversary of the pandemic, CRC re-named the community gardens as Reflection Gardens to provide a place for the college community to sit peacefully and contemplate what the pandemic has meant to them. Members of the college community donated flowers and plants and Zara started work on planting. Zara has spent a lot of time tending to the gardens this academic year to prepare them for new flowers and bedding plants.
Supported Learning Job Coach, Libby Capstick, who has been working with Zara over the last few years, adds, “I have had the pleasure of seeing Zara develop and progress into a confident learner who is conscientious and willing to have a go at all tasks. She works hard and offers lots of ideas when given a new project. Zara is very keen to develop the Reflection Garden into a quiet space for staff and sensory place for students. She is likes to share her knowledge and love of gardening with others.”
Describing her project plans, Zara added, “When we first went into lock down, I was thinking I could update the sensory garden, which has since become known as the Reflection Garden. When I was at home doing online learning I was drawing a design for the reflection garden and my tutors liked my design. My work experience is now taking place on a Tuesday afternoon when I work in the reflection garden. I spend my time researching plants, fruits and trees that can attract wildlife to the gardens. I also building items for the garden that the wildlife can enjoy.”
Since this time, Zara has written to a variety of local garden centres seeking their support, and was thrilled by the kind donation of seeds to support her project. Zara has subsequently been to meet the Community Champion to accept the donation and will now begin the second phase of planting ready for summer.
Next year, Zara will return to CRC to complete the Adults 4 All course, which will enable her to focus on her functional skills while working with the Green Team in Hinchingbrooke Park/Paxton Pits/Anglesey Abbey and continuing with her project on the reflection garden.
Looking to her future, Zara aspires to complete a Horticulture Apprenticeship and dreams of returning to Cambridge Regional College as a Horticultural Site Manager.
Zara concludes, “I have thoroughly enjoyed studying with CRC and I would now describe myself as a hardworking, confident and enthusiastic young lady.”
Find out more about Supported Learning at CRC.