Projects Lead & Founder of The Papillon Project
We are all from different backgrounds and walks of life, but we all collectively, and positively, work together to enrich and develop The Papillon Project. We are all very friendly, approachable, incredibly dedicated and really value each other's areas of experience and expertise. We also enjoy laughing at each others jokes and funny stories from time to time!
The Papillon Project is made of two main groups that make our charitable work possible:
They have ultimate responsibility for The Papillon Project as a charity and our accountable to The Charity Commission.
These people work together, as a diverse and super positive team, to run The Papillon Project on a day-to-day basis. At present, all members of this group are unpaid volunteers. This incredibly dedicated group of people conduct the charity's work or help to raise crucial funds so we can continue to make our charitable work possible.
Matt was born and raised in Sussex. Unlike most state schools, Matt's former school (Oathall Community College) has a working school farm and market gardens which continues to offer a wonderful educational experience for many youngsters.
Matt studied history at the University of East Anglia, which included environmental history. He was particularly interested in the ‘wood shortage crisis’ which emerged during the early modern period. As a postgraduate, Matt completed fieldwork in post-war Bosnia to study how natural surroundings might help heal the wounds of war. Since university, he has worked and taught in rural Uganda where local food is grown because, with no local supermarkets, there was no alternative! In a previous life, Matt worked as a water sports instructor for many years working with children of all ages and abilities. Matt has also had the privilege of working for the New Zealand Red Cross in Christchurch following the earthquakes there.
With great interest, Matt has also visited Cuba to see the island’s success at growing food locally, without fossil fuels. He has also held an allotment in Norwich (Bluebell Allotments), and his completed an ‘Introduction to Permaculture’ course and holds a certificate in Permaculture Design
From 2013-2018, Matt was a full time humanities teacher at Reepham High School & College. It was during this time at this school that Matt decided to attempt to create a school allotment to inspire his students. After five years of non-stop work, and with the help of many amazing people, 'The Allotment Project' became a nationally recognised and celebrated secondary school allotment which subsequently won multiple awards.
In 2018 his work and efforts at Reepham High School & College won him the prestigious Royal Horticultural Society's ‘School Gardening Champion of the Year’ award, which included meeting HRH The Prince of Wales. You can get a very clear sense of why Matt is ‘positively bonkers’ about trying to engage the next generation to grow their own food by viewing this nomination video (made without his knowledge) at the end of this bio.
Matt went on to win the 'Norwich and Norfolk Eco Hero Award', by public vote in 2019 with over 3000 people voting for him. He has published many articles, spoken publicly about his work and has made numerous TV appearances, including live on BBC Breakfast national news.
In 2019, Matt left full-time teaching to set up The Papillon Project, which is now a registered charity. The multi-awarding winning 'Allotment Project' which Matt began in 2015 at Reepham High School & College, in many respects, was the 'accidental pilot' project that inspired Matt to create 'The Papillon Project' so he, and others, can help other secondary schools and colleges in Norfolk to also inspire children and young people to lead more sustainable lives too!
He lives with his wife on a small-holding in rural North Norfolk along with some lovely animals including Dumbledora the Basset Hound.
“Going to school simply has to be more about just tests and exams. These are, of course, really important, but, encouraging and skilling our children and young people to lead lives that work with, and not against, nature is of the greatest urgency… The Papillon Project is all about doing this across Norfolk, by supporting High Schools and their local communities to set up an allotment project.
A school allotment is a place for young people, designed with them and to inspire them, so they can inspire each other to grow their own food and so help to restore and work with nature, mediate the impact of climate change and promote their own physical and mental well-being.”
Louis discovered his interest in filmmaking after volunteering to produce and direct Matt Willer's nomination film for School Gardening Champion of the Year in 2018.
After receiving praise and commendation for his own work on the film, he then went on to produce a short documentary 'The Allotment Project', using the footage from the nomination film, specifically about the project at Reepham High School. This gives people insight into how the project runs and is why it is successful. It also won an international film award: WWOOF's Future Food and Farming Youth Video Awards (September 2019). You can view the video, and others on the ‘Our Work’ section of this website
Today, Louis is working with The Papillon Project to advise and produce new video content, with the aim of disseminating the idea and some of the approaches and techniques to school gardening. This is helping 'The Papillon Project's' values and learning to reach a wider audience.
Debbie spent much of her childhood outside in a fairly wild ‘garden’ climbing trees and digging holes. She was given her own small garden at a young age and has always had an interest in things that grow, whether in the garden or the countryside. Debbie has a huge passion for the environment and humanity’s relationship with nature. This human relationship with nature was kindled around the time Debbie had her own children. She noticed, with fascination, how her children felt towards the world around them; from wriggly worms, mud pies and the like. Debbie believed that this opened her eyes to how precious our planet is and inspired her to go on to study Environmental Biology.
Debbie has worked as a dinner lady, a special needs learning assistant, as a childminded and a volunteer for school gardening clubs. She is a very knowledgeable horticulturalist and now works as a professional gardener, with her own gardening business, gaining her qualifications through the Royal Horticultural Society at Easton College. Debbie’s says:
‘At home I grow as much of my own food as my modest plot will allow, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that we need to go further than this to maintain a balance in how much we consume of the planet’s resources. And we need to teach our children. Something that embodies that idea is Permaculture, and this is something that I think can be applied to every aspect of our lives alongside conventional food growing'
Chloe has a lifelong passion for sport and love of animals and, combined with her degree in law, has led her to peruse a career in the Sport Law industry. She is currently working as Legal Advisor with the British Horse Racing Authority and lives in London.
Chloe was born and raised in the Republic of Ireland in Ballyclough, County Cork and is a “proud Irish girl at heart’.
As a former elite athlete and with her legal training, experience and skills, Chloe hopes that she can help The Papillon Project grow and ensure that it meets its obligations as a Charitable Company. She says:
‘I’m honoured to accept the position as Secretary of The Papillon Project and fully support Matt Willer, leading this inspiring project. I first met Matt through his incredible wife, Natasha. Matt’s professional approach, strong work ethic, perseverance, and determination are illustrated by his achievements thus far. The success of the ‘The Allotment Project’ at Reepham High truly inspired me to get involved with The Papillon Project.'
George lives with his family in the beautiful Norfolk countryside where he spent much of his childhood watching the local wildlife, cycling and playing with friends in the nearby villages. After completing his earlier education at his local primary and secondary school, George went on to study History, Geography and Sociology A Levels at Reepham College, where he became well acquainted with Matt Willer, in his lessons and at the Reepham Allotment Project. George regularly volunteered during and outside of college hours in constructing the Allotment Project, along with helping students at the site and teaching them about the importance of permaculture, growing food organically and the protection of the environment. After two incredible years of working at Reepham, George was inspired to help make Matt’s allotment charity vision a reality, and now volunteers with The Papillon Project developing new and existing allotments at local secondary schools.
During this Gap Year, George plans to learn first-hand about the dynamics of wildlife conservation and the threats species and habitats face, by volunteering with a variety of local and national wildlife organisations such as the RSPB and The Norfolk Wildlife Trust. In addition, he plans to travel across the UK to different nature reserves to observe different conservation strategies in action. And if that wasn’t enough, he also hopes to do international volunteering in the Galapagos Islands in order to help preserve and experience the abundant yet, fragile biodiversity of this unique archipelago. After this, George will be taking up a placement at Kent University to Study a BSc in Wildlife Conservation with a Year in Professional Practice.
In his spare time, George tends to his extensive vegetable garden at home and grows organic produce for his family to use. He is also a passionate outdoorsman; he enjoys annual country sports and taking regular walks and bike rides near his home and outdoor swimming and sailing on the North Norfolk Coast. When not outside, George can often be found reading about natural history, listening to classical music or keeping updated with and discussing current affairs.
George says of his role and expectations:
‘The Papillon Project helps to encourage shared stewardship of our planet’s resources, fairer societies and the transfer of vital knowledge and skills; simply by creating long-term, ecologically sound allotments. It is so rewarding to play an active role working alongside students who have come together from a diverse range of social backgrounds, to produce something for their school that, due to the constraints of the Education System, is often impossible to contemplate.
The Papillon Project will generate both a series of self-sufficient allotments that become integral parts of School life, and in time form a network that can share resources efficiently to help create and improve other sites- just like a healthy forest sharing water and nutrients to survive.’
David has had a long and varied charity career working in mental health, HIV/AIDS, LGBTQI+ and one or two other areas. David has also trained as a counsellor and still offers his services to help others. David graduated from Bath University in 1981 with a degree in sociology and economics. After which, he moved into a squat in London and thence a gay commune in Hackney. David has worked in finance most of his life, by accident rather than design, in organisations as diverse as a city stockbroker to political organisations and, of course, charities. David also has a master's degree in charity finance when he worked for Camden Council in 1996. David has keen interest in climate change, Richard III and Shakespeare and also arranges the odd poetry reading.
The great outdoors has long been a passion of Sara’s; she grew up on a farm and was lucky enough to have parents who encouraged her in this. Her back garden included a den where she used to sleep with her sister overnight and an outdoor fire pad where they often cooked breakfast and lunch together. During her teenage years, she became a Young Leader with her local Guide Company; this allowed her to share her love of the outdoors with other young people, taking them camping, playing ‘wide’ games and making the most of natural resources. Her involvement in Guiding continued for many years, whatever age group she worked with getting the girls outside and learning practical skills was always a priority! Sara has a strong belief in encouraging young people to recognise their potential, particularly those for whom academic success doesn’t come easily.
Sara’s interest in The Papillon Project was initially sparked through watching the development of the Reepham High School allotment, which combined her on-going love of the outdoors with encouraging young people to learn practical skills in an incredibly positive environment. Sara would be the first to admit that her knowledge of gardening is very limited but was delighted to take on the role of clerk with The Papillon Project so that she could help support a project she believed so strongly in.
Fuchsia studied Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia and her professional background lies in marketing, communications and event management.
She first encountered The Papillon Project whilst working as Communications Officer for the RHS Campaign for School Gardening, and was blown away by the Project’s flagship allotment at Reepham High School.
On returning to Norfolk to work as a freelance writer, she got involved more directly, volunteering to sit on the Project’s Leadership team and Fundraising committee.
She spends a lot of her spare time growing vegetables on a patch of land in West Norfolk and is passionate about helping to connect everyone, young or old, with the great outdoors!
Portia originally trained as a ballet dancer at The Royal Ballet School and worked as a commercial dancer and model, before re-training as an actress at Drama Centre London.
Though having left Reepham, both Alannah and Rhys were involved with the Papillon Project from its early beginnings as the Reepham High School allotment. As is often the case with siblings, they are somehow incredibly similar and incredibly different at the same time. Alannah is now studying foreign languages, and likes to absorb herself in books and words and stories; Rhys likes to think about ways in which the physics engine running this universe is flawed, and talks to Alannah about it in words she doesn’t understand.
They both, however, very much enjoy being outside, and are lucky enough to have finally worked out that enjoying the company of a sibling is (usually) more fun than fighting. They look forward to summertimes, when they will both be at home again and spending days together on long bikes rides that often end up back at their old school allotment. Somehow, although their paths stray further, The Papillon Project keeps drawing them closer, like a cos(x)=x graph, says Rhys (and Alannah trusts the metaphor, but doesn’t understand it).
“The longer I spend in education, the more I realise how broad that term really is. Learning is not just about rearranging formulae and memorising facts and dates; we are learning all the time. The Papillon Project offers not only the possibility of learning about the environment and sustainability but other essential skills that the curriculum neglects; about co-operation and patience, about practical skills and the benefits of spending time out of doors, and it underpins the importance of all of these skills as part of ‘education'."
“I have always been a big fan of taking things apart. From dismantling computers to repurposing the inner workings of a drill, I am particularly fond of the reuse and upgrading of things that were previously thought to be past their best. I am honoured to be involved in such a delightfully sustainable project in such a fun way.”
Diane started her career working in a bank and continued in the accounts’ offices of various companies, before starting her own business in administration. Having left school at 15 with no qualifications, she studied for a degree with the Open University before obtaining a PhD in Mathematics at the University of Hertfordshire. She regularly volunteered with various charities and became involved in The Royal Institution’s Masterclass Programme, subsequently working at The Ri and becoming Clothworker’s Fellow in Mathematics, responsible for the Mathematics programme and introducing Engineering and Computer Science Programmes. Diane is also the Manager of the English Schools’ Orchestra, a charity offering opportunities in orchestral playing for the very best young orchestral players aged 13 to 18 around the UK, and has been Treasurer for a Scout Group for over 30 years, so has been involved in young people’s charities for most of her life. Her hobbies are gardening and craft, so The Papillon Project is an exciting development and any help she can provide to the project is willingly given.
Graeme’s passion for the outdoors began at a young age growing up in rural Lancashire and Cheshire. He spent his 20s as a Youth Worker in the North West, for local charities, such as the Canal Boat project, and for a secondary school. Graeme moved to Norfolk in 2011, to complete his PhD in International Development at the UEA. Living in a flat in Norwich, Graeme and his wife took on an allotment in order to grow their own vegetables and gain some outdoor space, which rekindled an enthusiasm and enjoyment for gardening, nature and sustainable living. Graeme and his wife have since moved to North Norfolk, where they spend most of their spare time in their garden chasing their chickens and continuing their desire to live ‘the good life’. Graeme is currently undertaking an RHS qualification in Horticulture and is really excited to be a part of the Papillon Project.
Graeme's role as the charity's 'Development Lead' is to help schools and colleges progress towards making their allotment sustainable. The Papillon Project not only exists to help create school allotments, but, once they are up and running, it is our role, as a charity, to help make sure that a school allotment very much continues to be a place of inspirational learning, as a functioning school allotment, for many years to come.
Emily is a film student at an arts university on the south coast. She has always loved nature and the outdoors, and this has evolved into a passion for environmentalism. She is also involved with political and environmental activism, and uses film and photography as a tool and an outlet for this.
Emily has a strong interest in alternative education, partly because of her early years which were spent at a steiner school. Her secondary years, however, were spent at Reepham High School where, as a student, she discovered ‘The Allotment Project’ (or the accidental pilot project) that inspired The Papillon Project.