Peterborough School- Five Senses Sustainability Garden

A project by Illawarra Regional Sustainability Education Network

This collaborative community project engaged 90 adults and children from Peterborough School and the wider community from the Illawarra region of NSW to construct and celebrate a five senses school sustainability garden and adopt new sustainable living practices at home.

TAFE NSW Yallah Horticulture and Landscaping & Construction classes worked with Peterborough School teachers and students to plan the garden with the aim to use food, colour, water, soil, plants and repurposed materials to engage children with disabilities with nature and the outdoor world.

"The best part of the project was working collaboratively with the students and seeing their ongoing relationship with the garden develop, along with their growing sense of ownership and sense of place."
Paddy Lane, TAFE NSW Yallah

Wollongong Botanic Gardens ran plant propagation workshops with a class at the school to grow 50 native plants to increase biodiversity in the garden, plus assisted with building recycled garden features. Two weekend community workshop days engaged 60 adults and children from the wider Illawarra community with the garden.  

During the first ‘Bring a Tool’ day, repurposed materials were used to build ‘Farmer Joe’- a large sculpture of a wheelchair that functions as a garden storage shed. TAFE NSW students also created paths and ramps to make the garden accessible for the students and added wheelchair-friendly potting-up benches to existing raised garden beds. There is a focus on reusing and repurposing the main building materials for the garden and to date, approximately 1 tonne of waste has been diverted from landfill.

“Working with so many people with energy and expertise was amazing and the amount of work that we got through together was incredible. With like-minded, experienced and knowledgeable people and enthusiasm, we will get a good result.”
Joe Carter, TAFE NSW Yallah

The workshop days gave participants opportunities to engage, learn and have conversations about waste repurpose, composting, soil building, permaculture and planting. Activities during the second ‘Plant and Play’ day included: a theatrical performance of ‘Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men’ by the Wollongong Botanic Gardens; sculpture painting and building; rock painting; composting; tree decorating; and planting a mix of 50 native and edible trees and plants in the garden. At the end of this day 30 adults pledged to adopt sustainability behaviours at home, writing their pledge on a card and were photographed.

“The pledge motivated me personally to take action and finally get a compost bin in my house. It was really cool getting encouragement to get this done.”
Lana Kajlich, Illawarra Regional Sustainability Educators Network

These pledges were followed up three months later through face-to-face conversations with each of the pledgees at the ongoing gardening activities. This initial evaluation of the community-based social marketing technique revealed that 93% of pledgees have adopted new sustainability practices at home including: starting a vegie garden; starting a native garden; starting composting at home; using worm farms; and starting soft plastics recycling.

Project collaborators continue to work with Peterborough School as the garden continues to grow and be maintained. 

“It is wonderful to have conducted a collaborative project with a new committee and that the momentum of the committee and relationship with the school is going to continue into the future.”  
Julia Barnes, Illawarra Regional Sustainability Educators Network


  • Illawarra Regional Sustainability Education Network
  • Wollongong Botanic Gardens
  • TAFE NSW Yallah
  • Illawarra Multicultural Services
  • University of NSW (PhD Candidate)
  • Peterborough School
  • Australia Association for Environmental Education- NSW Chapter


It is wonderful to have conducted a collaborative project with a new committee and that the momentum of the committee and relationship with the school is going to continue into the future.


  • The immediate outcome of this project is that around 50 participants from different demographics of the community had opportunities to engage, learn and have conversations about waste repurpose, composting, permaculture and planting over two community workshops;
  • Workshop activities included a fantastic play of ‘Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men’ by the Wollongong Botanic Gardens, creating sustainability pledges, rock painting, tree decorating, planting, composting and soil building;
  • Participants of TAFE Yallah Course each brought a plate of food to share at the workshops;
  • As a result of these workshops, participants gained inspiration in relation to their own sustainability practices including starting a vegie garden, starting a native garden, starting composting at home, using worm farms and starting soft plastics recycling;
  • The ultimate outcome of the project is that approximately 1 tonne of waste has been diverted from landfill and that biodiversity at Peterborough School has increased and will continue to increase as the garden continues to grow;
  • The construction of the garden is not yet complete and hence not all teaching outcomes were achieved in the timeframes of this program.  However, as the garden is an ongoing project, it is hoped that in the future, the Peterborough sensory garden will become an outdoor classroom and teachers, students and parents of Peterborough can enjoy and spend more time learning outdoors and that the space can continue to be used for demonstration to the community of a repurposed garden.

Were there any unexpected outcomes?

  • Participants were delighted at the way that Yallah Tafe and the Landscaping team donated two days of time and materials to complete the walkway around the garden and install a wheelchair friendly access point to the garden site;
  • Ongoing commitment and collaboration of participants in the Illawarra Regional Sustainability Educators Network;
  • Due to a new permaculture course at TAFE NSW, Yallah, ongoing engagement, relationships and garden building will continue to occur;
  • Cutting down and eradicating the African Olive Tree and putting to a creative use;
  • How well the plants from the student planting days have thrived;
  • Participants were pleased with the progress in the storage shed and how the wheels turned out and how people brought in recycled materials from everywhere.


What didn’t go to plan:

We had a hurdle in terms of dates for starting the garden construction as the roof of the bus bay was replaced at the school and the materials needed to be stored where the garden was intended. This pushed back the timing for our community working bee and celebration workshops, resulted in the workshops being hosted closer together and impacted the amount of preparation time as well as the amount of building and construction that was able to be completed before and in-between the community workshops. The weekends of both community celebrations ended up with rain which impacted the amount of work that was able to be completed and the number of attendees.

What was harder than expected:

Coordinating and communicating between all collaborators and ensuring everyone was updated was harder than expected with everyone’s different work schedules.  


As all projects, there are many learnings have occurred through this process. The team learnt a few good tips for future projects including:

  • Allowing a larger timeline for the project outside program;
  • Ensuring all funding streams are determined beforehand;
  • Hosting the working bees on weekends, however hosting celebrations during school hours rather than weekends for students, teachers and parents;
  • Accounting for children being present at child-free working bees and preparing some activities/having a person assigned to look after children so more parents can participate;
  • Having multiple communication channels with the school and ensuring communication is occurring constantly to ensure there are no unexpected hazards and that permaculture principles behind decisions are shared;
  • Allowing times for briefing sessions at the beginning and end of each workshop day;
  • Having a strong commitment from organisers for regular set times for check-ins and a commitment from each individual that if they cannot attend these sessions they need to brief another attendee before-hand to avoid people chasing each other.


$1,500 cash, $40,000 in-kind contributions.

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