UK POND College Offers Water Feature Training

Published on December 27, 2021

The Sand Pit at POND college expanded into the adjacent farmland in October 2020.

POND college (Pc) is the home of Any Pond Limited, a marketing company that educates and inspires the British public. Our focus is to help others dream, plan and enjoy ponds and water features.

Pc is in an ideal central location in the United Kingdom and is open for the citizens of the British Isles and Europe. We teach via video and hands-on classes and workshops. We charge for the use of the facility or invite our customers to Pc after purchasing products from our retail e-commerce site, www.waterfeature.shop. TEAM anypond — our local marketing side of the business — helps build and maintain the ponds and water features in the college gardens.

We have created a very safe place for people to come and learn about ponds and water features, and we lure them in with valuable hands-on experience. Not everyone is so keen to start with, so we encourage people to simply watch and learn about the systems.
Est. 2014

PONDTrade Water Artisan of the Year Contest
I first came up with the idea of a U.K.-based pond training center in 2014 at an Aquascape event in the U.S. Everyone else at the time was building prototype systems that would sometimes work and sometimes not. I also found that ponds were being pigeonholed into one style.

To start with, I set up the first training area in a fenced-off part of my 6-by-6-foot back garden — a very small space for a single person to explore what they could achieve with rocks and water. The success of the training area led to the establishment of the first facility at Pc, a set of three purposely designed waterfall training boxes fully intended for waterfall building — I thought about running a competition when designing the facility with three group stages, and a three winner build off in a final?

Classrooms

M.J. Wilson was proud of the construction team (wearing red) teaching a pond-building class. In this photo, they were just finishing up the final edge treatment stage.

This almost brand-new hands-on training facility is a perfect stage to showcase the procedures of building with pond kits. We cover all aspects of water-feature building, from our own mini pondless kit using the small basin from Aquascape, to larger, more advanced pond packages. We provide individual technical product installation training, like fitting faceplates to skimmers and biofalls. The whole idea behind the in-house training is that it’s designed to allow people to make mistakes, as they can be rectified and fixed while being in a teaching moment. Even watching others making mistakes helps engage students build better water features.

My main aim was to provide training opportunities for anyone interested in investing their own time. 2021 saw the main doors open with a number of events scheduled, from private sandbox hires to one-to-one sessions and group learnings.

Today, the training boxes are continually changing as students come through Pc doors. These three main waterfall boxes hold enough sand for one builder (8 x 8 ft). This normally entails the student installing one of our 3-foot-long fairy fall kits. This is a good teaching practice, as in a very short window of time (maximum of 6 hours for one person), the students take away the knowledge that they can do it. They follow a recipe card to produce a small running water feature and even grade their own work by using our waterfall ranking sheet. Watching the little light bulbs going off throughout the day is what really makes teaching others at POND college so worthwhile.

I first started out with a small bone yard mainly used for storing rock and building materials. In early 2020, I decided I wanted to build a sand pit (15 by 20 feet and 3 feet deep) for pond building. The sand pit can be used for multiple features or one medium-sized pond if needed. We covered the sand pit with a roof and walls, as contractors like to photograph or video their work without distracting the viewer.

George and Kenny from TEAM anypond build pondless waterfalls in the sandboxes.

Later that year, I was able to afford more space, so I managed to convince my mate to rent out his adjoining farmland, which today is shaping our college gardens, where we showcase ponds and water features. Designed for inspiration and education, the main garden is split into many different sections, creating a variety of areas and feelings.

The inspiration gardens are designed for guided and self-guided walks. People often comment that it’s a completely different experience in person as opposed to watching the videos online. The gardens are intended to leave you inspired and motivated. The water features on display are all mainly based on prepackaged kits with a couple of our own custom creations. We provide Aquascape products via our e-commerce site and offer a “try before you buy” deal on lots of the fountains and smaller features.

We continue to add to the college gardens with many exciting new features. Wherever you are worldwide, you can follow along with our updates on our YouTube channel.

Team Building

One of the biggest successes of Pc to date has been with staff training. In February 2021, I had to stop doing manual work under doctor’s orders due to a back problem. This has been quite hard for me, just like a star striker having to step into retirement and start a new brand-new position of building a soccer team.

Thankfully, Pc helped me very quickly hunt for three full-time staff to run the local market and teach the students coming up. This was difficult to start out with, as the team was still learning how to think through problems and come up with solutions. However, Pc provided a fast track for learning with a big safety net, providing video links for instruction and then the actual space to carry out the implementation.

Today, members of TEAM anypond are running the building events. Even though the team is less than a year old, they are starting to video most of the projects and share teaching moments with our viewers.
We all stand by the saying, “Don’t blame the pond; blame the pond designer.”

Student Body

Here at POND college we have a strong passion for helping others reach their fullest potential. We actively invite people to come to Pc to participate in organized training workshops and one-to-one tutorials tailored to the individual’s or business’ needs. We have had people down from Scotland and up from Cornwall and Devon in England. More and more conversations are developing with people interested from Europe. We hope to host our first European clients in late 2021.

Joe, an employee of Nice Ponds, was project managing his first solo pondless waterfall installation.

My wife Charlotte even built her very own pondless feature for everyone to watch. Charlotte is not a pond builder or even an avid DIYer, and she is not someone who enjoys the camera. However, she found she could help people in her same shoes via video — even if it’s helping someone think it’s better to hire a professional for certain jobs.

In November 2020, one of the sandboxes was used as a film set for Charlotte’s first hands-on build. Not only did this video help connect our DIY YouTube fans, but it also inspired a number of other women to buy kits from us. The main idea is to help people dream, plan and enjoy ponds and water features.

Course Catalog

As social media has become the main access point for gaining knowledge around the world, we now have hundreds of YouTube videos to promote and document our findings here at POND college. Our staff documents lots of construction work with video, teaching moments and stock footage that we often refer back to in our teaching situations. Nowadays, live videos walking around the garden sell water features. People don’t even need to leave the comfort of their homes.

Andras and M.J., right, finish installing a medium fountain kit.

Not only are we training in the sand and soil, but we also are helping the next generation of budding businesses owners. Job costing is often a frequent conversation (as most don’t know where to start). This year we are starting to offer more help with spreadsheets and tracking information, which can be more daunting than working on the job site! Sometimes it’s uncomfortable for people to talk about money, so we offer business planning and management training at Pc as well.

It all starts with our in-house team actively updating documents and recording the person hours on projects. This not only helps us, but it helps others in estimating accurate build times on the features that we sell. Keeping score and tracking person hours also increases productivity and efficiency in all aspects of the pond-building business.

Final Exams

The POND college gardens are for our in-house team to showcase their work, but we also invite contractors (once we have seen their stuff in the sand) to install their own displays. Two British companies so far have taken us up on the opportunity to install their own features — Brit Ponds and Ecoscape Water Gardens.

PONDTrade Water Artisan of the Year Contest
Contractors may not have had the opportunity to fit or install some of their products, so this facility gives them that chance. We can help them mock up the installation in the sand or in the gardens.

The sandboxes are very popular with contractors who want to bring new or existing field staff to project manage and hone their skills. Pc offers a change of environment and feedback, all in a non-pressure situation. After all, it’s better to make a mistake in the sand than in a paying customer’s garden.

Lots of people enjoy the chance to fit face plates, repair holes in rubber liner or work with solvent fittings. Eventually, they graduate to advanced tasks like motion calculations for negative-edge water features. Tasks of all levels of difficulty can be practiced here at POND college.

Now in 2021, our facility has grown to ½ acre, so we can accommodate much larger parties of people, with car parking and all the normal facilities. Anyone is welcome. “If you have the time, we’ve got POND college!”

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