Joy Williams MBE — an inspirational lady

Posted on June 1st, 2011 by Charles Boot

Letitia Yetman writes:

Joy Williams in a Devon Garden. Photo by Letitia Yetman

Joy Williams in a Devon Garden. Photo by Letitia Yetman

Joy Williams from Exmouth, Devon, has been awarded an MBE for services to children. What might one ask has this to do with gardens, gardening or even garden history? Everything, as it is Joy’s work with schools for the Devon Gardens Trust that has gained her this very well deserved accolade. Joy has been involved with schools since the inception of the Gardens Trust movement in the 1980s, and the inspiration behind major improvements in school grounds throughout the country from which a generation of children have benefited. These children will be our future head gardeners, landscape architects and garden historians.

Joy, a clergyman’s daughter, trained at Bedford Froebel College. Her first teaching post was at the Dragon School, Oxford, followed by a spell in Dar es Salaam. Returning to England, Joy taught at Twyford Primary School, Hampshire from 1962–80 then became Head of the Teacher’s Centre, Winchester until 1990. As School Grounds Co-ordinator for Hampshire, her pioneering work brought together Hampshire County Council, Hampshire Wildlife Trust, Hampshire Gardens Trust, Learning Through Landscapes and the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers. In those early days there was much to learn and Joy’s teaching, gardening and practical skills enabled her to win the confidence of schools, encouraging and supporting them in their projects. The strategies developed at that time for much needed improvements in school grounds and play areas were followed by many of the emergent Gardens Trusts throughout England. Under the aegis of the Association of Gardens Trusts, regional education meetings continue today to be a valuable forum for disseminating the latest ideas on school projects.

Moving to Devon in 1994 Joy embarked on new chapter of work with schools for the Devon Gardens Trust, becoming Chairman of the Trust and subsequently of their Education and Events Committee. Full of lively enthusiasm and wonderful ideas, Joy has personally visited scores of far-flung schools, often arriving laden with donated plants for particular spots, encouraging and inspiring teachers and pupils with projects tailored to their needs and helping to transform often dull school yards into attractive and welcoming areas. It may seem hard to believe but even in a predominantly rural county like Devon there are schools with no grass at all, merely a tarmacadam playground, and children (as well as teachers) who have never dug the soil or seen a plant. Joy’s visits and encouragement have seen unsightly regulation chain-link fencing covered with attractive climbers, planters made from discarded car tyres and old wellies, vegetables timed to ripen during term-time, wildlife ponds, forest schools, trees for shade, after school gardening clubs; the list is endless. Joy has a knack of persuading local garden trust members to donate appropriate plants, and local garden centres specific child-sized tools.

Part of the process also enables teaching staff to source items purchased with DGT grants and manage their grounds aided by parents and volunteers. On visits to these schools DGT members are always greeted by delighted children eager to show off their new vegetable plots, seating areas and so on. It is impossible to imagine how many children have been and continue to be influenced by Joy’s work with schools over the past 30 years. Schools now receive help from many outside bodies but the seeds were sown in Hampshire by a lady with boundless enthusiasm who modestly tends her own delightful garden.

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