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30 March 2019

Westport school community garden re-established after Cyclone Fehi

More than a year after Cyclone Fehi battered the community of Westport, the town rallied together to re-establish a community asset – the Westport North School garden and orchard. 

After more than a year of planning, Mitre 10 Westport, the Friends of North School, several local businesses and builders, plus a host of volunteers came together over four days, 21-24 March 2019, to return the garden and orchard to its former glory. 

Chair of Friends of North School Tracy Moss had seen Mitre 10 champion an outdoor upgrade at another local school in 2016, and after a Ladies Night event last year she popped the question to Mitre 10 Builder Stan Scott: “Stan, do you need another project?”. 

Once a prize-winning garden that would see students learning to plant, care for, harvest and cook fresh fruit and vegetables, the garden was left ravaged by freak flood waters that flowed through the school grounds – a devastating combination of a storm surge and a king tide. 

“The kids loved getting involved in the garden; to look at it, pick it, plant it. When the garden was at its peak, there would often be a wheel barrow of surplus food at the school entry for the community to come and grab, and the Garden Club would take home produce to their families,” says Moss.

Over four days, around 600 square metres of raised garden beds was cleared, re-built and planted with more than 300 vegetable and herb seedlings. A paved pathway now weaves its way through the garden, past a swing seat and other landscaping features. Around 5m2 of soil and 4m2 of bark were used, mostly to plant more than 40 fruit trees. A huge number of volunteers took part – at least more than 40 - giving more than 500 hours of time to the project.

Troy Scanlon is fourth generation Westport, with his family having operated the home improvement store since the 1930’s. He has spent most of the year leading up to the project contacting and coordinating donations from suppliers and his own store, as well as many local businesses and builders. 

“It’s a big job to pull all of these aspects together, with lots of phone calls and emails, but everyone is so willing to help. This is a great community.  The donations in time, skills, equipment and materials are well in the tens of thousands at this stage. It quickly adds up to a hefty figure. 

“We’re from here too, so getting involved in these types of projects is just part of ensuring the community stays strong and connected. We take any opportunity we can to support our community and ensure it stays a great place to live and work,” says Scanlon. 

Principal of Westport North School Cath O’Laughlin says “the support that we’ve had from our community is incredibly humbling. Our local Mitre 10 is amazing, they’re always the first to put up their hand to help on any project going on. And Tracy and the Friends of North School have been incredible, spending hours on this with Troy and Stan.”

Moss and the Friends of North School rallied the volunteers and ensured there was a BBQ lunch and morning and afternoon tea for everyone getting stuck in.

Local contractors, Avery Brothers, donated their time and equipment to the project over the weekend. Brett Avery says he and his brothers were students at the school, so he was only too happy to support the project for the weekend. 

Westport North School Principal Cath O’Laughlin said the students are excited to have their garden back. 

“It is such an integral part of our school. Every class had an area they would look after and we had a committed group of parents too. We’d have a day where we would feed all the students and teachers from the garden. And being able to share surplus product was helpful for families. When we first established it in 2011, we won the national primary school garden competition twice in a row – after that we stopped entering to let another school win,” laughs O’Laughlin.