How we helped Croydon’s children to celebrate bees

By - Tuesday 13th September, 2016

Jenny Lockyer spends a week helping Croydon’s children to have a bee bonanza

Bob the bee.
Photo author’s own.

The Oval Tavern garden nestles snugly between the playing field of Ark Oval school and the houses on Oval Road. Walk near to the pub on a warm summer’s evening and you are likely to hear the strumming of an acoustic guitar or the relaxed murmur of conversations, clinking glasses and general pub life rising up into the night sky. In Croydon, we have become quite used to stunning sunsets with skies of pinks, purples, reds and golds, which from the Oval garden are framed by branches of laurel and rowan trees.

This lovely garden was my working space for the first week in August as I ran Bee Week. A summer spin off from my regular Saturday Storytime sessions there, this is an annual event of storytelling and arts sessions for children, all about bees. The calm of this garden in the bright mornings while I was setting up was just as welcome as the pot of tea which Esther, the Oval’s manager, made me first thing. There was something very lovely about emptying boxes full of things from the little blue shed perched quirkily in the corner. And there was something exciting about setting up a table of arts activities all about bees while bees themselves buzzed between the hebe and verbena in the borders.

I came to run Storytime at the Oval Tavern when Esther Sutton moved there from the Green Dragon pub in Croydon town centre. It has gained quite a large following, and children from all over the borough have fun of a Saturday with me in our little corner, playing, listening to stories, creating stories, making things, using things we’ve made in the stories we tell… it’s a simple set up. I set a table for crafts, and I hang sheets and bright curtains to create a space for the children to be creative in, and we have a great time.

It’s not every man who’ll wear a furry bee onesie in warm weather

Then the sessions take on a different kind of magic when we go out into the garden. When the warmer days come, we take our cushions and books and set up under the gazebo, creating our dens and becoming all sorts of characters. Then during the summer holidays we have a break from regular Saturday sessions and instead offer a week of fun which is all about bees. Bee Week!

This was its third year, and perseverance with promotion and a lot of word of mouth had built up our numbers, so Bee Week sessions were busy and lively. I enlisted the help of brilliant Bob the bee to support the sessions: it’s not every friend who is so dedicated to his role that he will don a furry bee onesie on a hot summer’s day. With our support, children made their own bee hats and costumes, planted bee-friendly miniature gardens, designed a huge bee hive for us all to tell stories in, gathered nectar and pollen and made beautiful garden lanterns.

We enjoyed many bee-inspired stories, and learned so much about why they are important

We met real-life beekeeper, Mark Stott of Croydon Beekeepers, who brought along bee keeping paraphernalia for the children to try on and introduced us to thousands of real bees and their queen, all busy and working in their glass panelled hive. We made bee houses and beeswax candles and hunted for quiz answers all around the garden. We ran a Bee First Aid course in which children pretended to be tired bees and took turns to rescue each other armed with straws and teaspoons of orange juice. This was extremely funny. We made beautiful decorations and enjoyed baking and eating fruity syrup fairy cakes with bread and honey and drinking pots of tea from real china cups. We enjoyed many bee-inspired stories and the children picked up loads of facts about bees and why they’re so important.

On the first morning of Bee Week, I found myself face to face with a very sleepy bumble who was more than happy to take a lift on my finger over to the nearest bloom of hebe before he took off like a tiny buzzing spitfire into the sky. There’s something very satisfying about the fluffy pollen covered bottom of a busy bumble bee and something enchanting about a creature who despite its tiny size has so much character. It was truly a bee bonanza in the Oval’s little garden, inspired not just by activities but by the plants, trees, herbs and climbers and the many mini-beasts that make them their home.

To find out more about Bee Week and Storytime sessions, you can contact Jenny Lockyer  

Jenny Lockyer

Jenny Lockyer

Jenny has been running Storytime for seven years now alongside work in music, comedy and her role as director of Funsense Theatre Company which offers accessible and fun sessions for disabled and non-disabled children to enjoy together. More info:

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