Sian El­lis of the Cotswolds Con­ser­va­tion Board on tak­ing the class­room outdoors

Tak­ing the class­room outdoors is fun, in­spires fresh ideas, broad­ens hori­zons and en­cour­ages a new gen­er­a­tion to en­joy and care for the Cotswolds

Cotswold Life - - INSIDE - WORDS: Siân El­lis

“For many of the chil­dren, it was their first ex­pe­ri­ence of a farm and the Cotswolds,” says Gavin Bishop, Year 5 teacher at Rose Hill Pri­mary School, Ox­ford. “Many made a real con­nec­tion be­tween what we eat and where it comes from, for the first time, and you’d be sur­prised (given their ini­tial re­ac­tion to the farm­yard smells) how many talked about liv­ing and work­ing in the coun­try­side in the fu­ture.”

Rose Hill’s trip to Old Farm, Dorn, was or­gan­ised with the Cotswold Vol­un­tary War­dens, who through­out 2018 have been fo­cus­ing on ed­u­ca­tion as the theme for their 50th An­niver­sary: en­gag­ing more young peo­ple with the Cotswolds as a place of learn­ing, re­cre­ation and work, and en­cour­ag­ing the coun­try­side guardians of to­mor­row. The Cotswolds Con­ser­va­tion Board has funded a Dis­cover the Cotswolds folder for schools high­light­ing tai­lor-made ac­tiv­i­ties that War­dens can help with – Rose Hill’s ex­cur­sion also in­cluded the Roll­right Stones, where pupils ex­pe­ri­enced an “awe and won­der” mo­ment on see­ing the pre­his­toric stones for the first time, Gavin Bishop says. “Hope­fully some seeds have been sown that will grow into a real love and ap­pre­ci­a­tion for ru­ral land­scapes.”

Al­ready 12 schools and over

500 pupils, from Ox­ford­shire, Glouces­ter­shire and the Bath area, have en­joyed ac­tiv­i­ties rang­ing from dis­cov­er­ing fos­sils to learn­ing about Ro­man life, ori­en­teer­ing, compass work and weav­ing.

Cotswold Vol­un­tary War­dens have been work­ing with schools and youth groups since the 1970s; Gerry Sim­per, a for­mer teacher and now a War­den who or­gan­ises ed­u­ca­tional work in the east area of the Cotswolds, says:

“The coun­try­side is a mas­sive yet un­der­used re­source for ed­u­ca­tional and fun ac­tiv­i­ties that in our ex­pe­ri­ence has proved an eye-opener for many chil­dren and staff alike. In many cases these learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties are on the school’s doorstep but for chil­dren from in­ner city schools in par­tic­u­lar, a trip to the coun­try­side of­fers a spe­cial chance to make new dis­cov­er­ies out­side their ev­ery­day en­vi­ron­ment.”

Sonic draw­ings to bushcraft

Vol­un­tary war­den Danny Towl, also with a back­ground in ed­u­ca­tion, has been busy on an­other project, or­gan­is­ing vis­its with pro­fes­sional artist Laura Den­ning to spend cre­ative days with schools/or­gan­i­sa­tions around the Cotswolds.

Us­ing ipads and dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy pupils at Bled­ing­ton Pri­mary and Winch­combe School have cap­tured sights and sounds from their sur­round­ings – wood­lands, hedgerows, pond and stream life – to cre­ate short “mov­ing paint­ings/sonic draw­ings,” Laura says. Pupils “par­tic­u­larly en­joy play­ing with my hy­drophone – un­der­wa­ter sound recorder – and be­gin to get an in­sight into the world of ‘sound ef­fects’.”

Cotswold Vol­un­tary War­dens have also been in­volved with el­e­ments of a pi­lot scheme ar­ranged with the Prince’s Trust and Young Glouces­ter­shire char­ity that ran through the sum­mer, en­cour­ag­ing young peo­ple from ur­ban ar­eas to ex­plore the coun­try­side and what it has to of­fer, in­clud­ing job op­por­tu­ni­ties. Com­ing from lo­ca­tions in­clud­ing Gloucester, Chel­tenham, Stroud and Lyd­ney, young peo­ple had a go at skills like dry stone walling, map read­ing, bushcraft and out­door cooking.

“The ses­sion they didn’t stop talk­ing about was bushcraft, it was ab­so­lutely bril­liant,” says Young Glouces­ter­shire Pro­gramme Leader Yazmin Nicette. “They got to gut a pi­geon, cook it on the camp­fire and eat it. It was real sur­vival stuff!” The pi­lot scheme has been “re­ally worth while,” she says, and it is hoped to build fur­ther on the ex­pe­ri­ences.

Ru­ral skills

Mean­while, Ed­ward Bonn, ru­ral skills of­fi­cer at the Cotswolds Con­ser­va­tion Board has been head­ing up a new Ru­ral Skills Pro­gramme for Young Peo­ple. Cour­ses are avail­able in a range of tra­di­tional skills that have helped to shape dis­tinc­tive land­scape fea­tures of the Cotswolds and it is re­ally im­por­tant to keep the skills alive to main­tain those fea­tures, Ed­ward says. Cour­ses can also raise aware­ness of ru­ral job op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Year 10 stu­dents at Bur­ford School have taken part in a two-day hedge­lay­ing course and two-day dry stone walling course. “We wanted to cel­e­brate the ru­ral arts and help our stu­dents to un­der­stand the ben­e­fits of con­ser­va­tion in all its forms,” says as­sis­tant head­teacher Stu­art Bas­sett.

The stu­dents cleared and laid 80 me­tres of hedge in the (typ­i­cally Cotswolds) Mid­lands style on site at school; and they dis­man­tled and re­stored (re-us­ing the old stone) a ten­metre stretch of tra­di­tional field wall sur­viv­ing from when the school had a work­ing farm – the aim is to re­store the whole 40-me­tre wall.

“The stu­dents have not only learnt new skills within the two dis­ci­plines, but have also gained team work­ing skills and pushed them­selves both phys­i­cally and men­tally,” Stu­art says.

Stu­dents are full of en­thu­si­asm too. So­phie Rawlins, who says the cour­ses were fun and helped her to de-stress and not worry about ex­ams, feels she learnt new skills that could trans­fer into a fu­ture ca­reer, “Es­pe­cially some­thing linked to de­sign.” Jasper Raistrick says, “It is im­por­tant to re­ju­ve­nate an old craft for the fu­ture” and “I might even look for a part time job.” Kai Shayler says, “It is great be­ing outdoors” and he would def­i­nitely rec­om­mend the pro­gramme to oth­ers.

‘Hope­fully some seeds have been sown that will grow into a real love and ap­pre­ci­a­tion for ru­ral land­scapes’

Tak­ing the class­room outdoors en­cour­ages a new gen­er­a­tion to en­joy and care for the Cotswolds

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