Christmas comes early for Homewood sixth formers

Christmas comes early for Homewood sixth formers

It might seem strange to be thinking about Christmas in May but Christmas trees – and lots of them – are top of mind for two Homewood School sixth formers currently undertaking work experience at the Hole Park Estate, Rolvenden.

While Hole Park’s many Spring visitors will be admiring the magnificent bluebell and blossom displays in the renowned gardens, 18-year old Lewis (left) and Oliver (right) are busy helping to care for the estate’s 50-acres of Christmas tree plantations. They are taking part in Homewood’s Ready for Work programme which places students with a range of employers and organisations from agriculture and construction to childcare and customer service.

Spring is, in fact, a critical time for the management of the trees to ensure the popular Nordman Fir and traditional Norway  Spruce, which will grace many Kent homes this Christmas and Christmases to come, can thrive, grow symmetrically and are not damaged by birds or pests.

The students have been working at Hole Park, under the expert guidance of Estate Foreman David Purnell (centre in the photo), since October last year. They spend three days a week working around the estate and the other two at school completing their studies in English, Maths and Work Skills.

Caring for the trees is just one of the duties they have been undertaking over the last seven months. Other tasks have included repairing paths, preparing logs, putting in new fencing and gates and general woodland maintenance.

Both sixth formers were not initially looking at careers in forestry or land management. Oliver, who comes from a farming family, had been thinking about following his twin brother into agriculture and farm work, while Lewis, who has no such farming links, had been looking towards training as a mechanic. But when the opportunity to work at the famous estate came up, they decided to take it and they are very pleased that they did as they have both been offered apprenticeships, starting this Summer.

Says Lewis, whose previous experience of work had been in shops and as a lifeguard: “I didn’t really know what to expect beforehand, but it’s great to work here. There’s so much variety in the work and we’re always learning – and not just manual skills, but also how to communicate effectively, how to discipline yourself to get to work on time (we start at 7.30am), helping others, supervising others and working to deadlines.”

Oliver is equally enthusiastic: “I love it here. We’ve had to work our way up to doing more involved jobs and taking on more responsibility. The bonus is to be working outside in the fresh air – it’s like we’re getting free gym membership!  I’m also excited about the further education and training as part of the apprenticeship but we already feel part of the team.”

Estate Foreman David Purnell is pleased with how well Lewis and Oliver have taken to their roles: “It is really rewarding to see these lads gather confidence while figuring out how and if they would like to pursue work in this sector.“

Hole Park has had a long association with the school over the decades and regularly takes at least one sixth form student on work experience.  The estate’s owner Edward Barham says he quite often meets adults who remind him that their first taste of work was at Hole Park, assisting the estate and farms in some way.  This year he is doubling his offer to Homewood students. “In 2021 we are taking on two apprentices because I feel very sorry for the current generation of students who have had a particularly rough time during the pandemic and now with the prospects of fewer job opportunities as they come to the end of their academic career. It is a pleasure to be able to offer something back to the community and we look forward to taking on Lewis and Oliver once they complete their studies at Homewood.”

Lewis and Oliver will officially join Hole Park to assist with forestry, countryside management gardening, property maintenance and Christmas trees in June 2021, in an apprenticeship scheme managed by Plumpton College.