STUDENTS at a North-East school have been training hard to become future leaders for environmental change by taking part in a ‘green-themed’ public speaking workshop.

A team of 23 Year 7 pupils from Hummersknott Academy, in Darlington, spent a day improving their oracy and public speaking skills by sharing their experiences involving trees and climate change, and working in groups to offer feedback on each other’s presentations.

The workshop was organised by teacher Eve Sweeting and led by Gareth Jenkins, a public speaking trainer whose background is in conservation and educational theatre.

Eve said: “They kids are all so passionate about the environment and caring for our planet, and it’s wonderful how today Gareth has been giving them the tools to really communicate that enthusiasm.

“They’ve shared some brilliant stories, and it’s been lovely to see them open up and watch both their skills and confidence grow as the day has gone on – it’s been tree-mendous!”

The workshop was funded by the Tree Council, a charity which works to raise awareness of trees and environmental issues. The students previously planted four new trees in the school’s grounds as part of the same project.

Humanities teacher Rob Snowball helped students Leighton-James Wilson-Edge, Lyla Reah, Jemima Robertson, Poppy Reed and Niamh Renton to plant their tree

Student Ruby Strong said: “Today was a really good day, I’ve enjoyed everything we’ve done because we’re trying to help the environment. It’s been something different and we’re going to carry it forwards because trees really help with things like mental health.

“I’ve learned a lot today – not only about trees, but also things like how speak and how posture improves your speaking. It’s also really good to know I’ll help to make a difference.”

At the end of the day Eve and Gareth selected the best seven talks from amongst the group. A winner will be chosen from this shortlist in July, who will go on to present give their speech at a Tree Council event during National Tree Week in July.

Gareth, who has worked on conservation projects around the world, including in in Australia, Greece, and Honduras, said: “We start the students out small with an introduction to public speaking, then build up their confidence and their ability throughout the day so at the end they can deliver a short speech without needing a book or notes.

“I’ve had an absolute blast. Teenagers often struggle to stand up in front of friends and can be a bit self-conscious, but Eve is a fantastic teacher and has a lovely relationship with her students.

“She’s created this really supportive environment, and the kids have been brilliant – they haven’t held back. They showed me the trees they planted a few weeks ago, and it’s just so clear that they’ve loved being part of this project.”