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JJ Ashdown’s Environmental Journey

JJ Ashdown’s Environmental Journey

As part of the 25th anniversary celebrations of the Jack Petchey Foundation, we are highlighting exceptional cases of those who have participated in our programmes. On the 25th of every month throughout 2024 we will share one of those with you.

This month, we have the inspiring story of JJ Ashdown, with today being an important day in his and his family’s story. Everyone at the Foundation wants to thank everyone who is a part of this story for sharing it.

JJ’s environmental journey begins

JJ was awarded a Jack Petchey Environmental Award in February 2023 from Willow Dene School. His environmental interests began with his love of being outdoors and, as a wheelchair user, one of his favourite activities was Forest School. He’d spend hours on the class balcony, making it a green space for him and his friends. This involved upcycling items to make a planter and a pond. He taught his friends how to build a terrarium, and encouraged them to join BBC’s Countryfile’s ‘Get Britain Growing’ campaign,  for which the group grew tomatoes and strawberries.

From there, JJ’s interest in nature expanded, and he was surrounded by nature discussions and questions. This led to JJ growing rare bulbs on our balcony and becoming members of the Farmer Gracy website. As JJ’s bulbs flowered, we took some photos and turned them into postcards along with an inspirational quote.

A postcard showing JJ’s bulbs blooming


These were sold on reception, bringing in over £100 towards his bulb fund! This was only just the beginning! Next up was growing heritage vegetables on the allotment and following a conservation route.


JJ’s favourite podcasts were David Attenborough’s’ Blue Planet and My Life in Sounds. From Blue Planet, we discovered the World Wildlife Foundation’s (WWF) Walrus Detective shows. JJ’s team did the Big Garden Birdwatch, leading to even more conservation projects.

The team learned that children don’t collect natural items anymore, meaning the ecology has suffered. JJ immediately began collecting stones dug from the school grounds, which inspired other classes to take part and make artwork from the materials they found.

JJ’s team designed a city garden in memory of two very dear friends. For this, JJ created a mood board and researched what to plant. His idea was to have bamboo and white roses to make it a peaceful space for people to visit. JJ always had a project on the go, and this helped us become more outward facing and eco-conscious. This is what led to his being awarded a Jack Petchey Environmental Award!

With his grant money that he won along with his award, JJ decided to develop the ground where he got on and off his school bus. Climbing plants to cover the fence, and fruit bushes or trees to attract the birds that he loved, would help create an attractive and environmentally friendly area.

Willow Dene School’s city garden


JJ on Willow Dene School’s balcony

Sad news

Sadly, and unexpectedly, JJ passed away on 25th March 2023, shortly after his 14th birthday. JJ didn’t have the chance to see this project completed. We were devastated.

Plague to JJ in Willow Dene School’s city garden

Lasting legacy

However, through our grief we were comforted by the environmental impact he had made and how we could still very much sense his presence through his projects. With this in mind, and in his memory, JJ’s team continued to work alongside JJ’s Mum and Zaki, his brother, after school to finish his city garden, with a plaque dedicated to JJ added.

JJ's team showcasing the garden.

What JJ wished for has been achieved: A peaceful place where people come to enjoy the outdoors. The garden project gave everyone who loved him a purpose when they needed one most.

With the city garden completed, JJ’s team started on the ground facing the class balcony. This is where Claudia and Jeska from Growing Green joined our project. We shared JJ’s projects, initial ideas and our plans with them, and they were keen to support us more. JJ’s team began removing weeds and digging the ground while Growing Green helped create a planting plan and found us a supplier.

JJ's team working on the garden

JJ was a Chelsea supporter, so blue climbing hydrangeas and clematis were added to cover the fence. JJ’s plans to attract birds led to the idea of currant bushes, and cherry and apple trees. A suggestion of rosemary for remembrance was welcomed. When planting season arrives in 2024, Gardening Club will be planting and caring for this area.

This project has inspired our 6th form horticulture group to start to plan for the rest of the fencing on either side of JJ’s patch. Together we are transforming our space, inspired by the memory of a great environmentalist who would be happy to see his favourite people working together for the good of the planet.

We are so proud of him and everything he has achieved.

The Jack Petchey Foundation would like to thank JJ, his family and everyone at Willow Dene School for their willingness to share this story. It is truly inspirational to witness the incredible work and dedication that JJ had for the environment. His legacy will forever be felt by those visiting Willow Dene School. Find out more about Willow Dene School here and the Jack Petchey Environmental Award here.

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