Allotments for the community, cooking healthy meals from on-site produce, sessions for families and opportunities for youngsters to learn new skills are all part of the Bright Start Community Forest School CIC.
The forest school is based on a former landfill area in Dane Valley which has been turned into a young woodland with some 6000 trees planted in the last decade.
Bright Start Nurseries, run by dad-of-four Marc Rattigan, took over the site from the Thanet Community Forest School in September and plans to continue the ethos of teaching children about sustainability, ecology, conservation and the environment while opening up the 13 acre site to all ages in the community.
Over the last few months the team, under the lead of project manager Michael Sturman, have installed new shelters and a compost loo and cleared a site for the allotment space which will be disabled-friendly.
Marc said: “The site is amazing, you would not think you were in the middle of Dane Valley, it is like being in the middle of the countryside.
“This is an area for young and old, all ages. We are developing the allotment area and that will be for people to grow their own veg. We are also going to set up a classroom with a kitchen to promote healthy eating. It’ll be all about growing your own veg and then cooking it so children will be able to see it growing and then pick and eat it.
“We are in an area where lots of people are living in flats and do not have gardens so there is a facility to book in and come and spend a couple of hours at the forest school and use the family picnic area. There are restrictions on numbers because of covid but it is a safe place to explore for families.”
Marc is hoping to extend the forest school reach for families by looking at ways of linking up with Sharon Goodyer from the Our Kitchen healthy, affordable food project. He also hopes to create an orchard at the site to make even more homegrown produce available to families.
Home education sessions are also being run at the forest school site with youngsters being able to experience teaching in an outdoor environment.
The risk-assessed sessions are run over six weeks under the lead of Michael and are structured so children can learn everything from woodworking to fire building. Each session costs £3.
Marc said: “It is about challenging children to try out things they would not normally do. It also is about keeping everything we do, as a community interest company, affordable and accessible for everyone.”
Students from St Anthony’s, which was instrumental in building the original site under founder Luke Evans in 2017, continue to use the facility and Bright Start nursery children will also have the opportunity to experience outdoor learning. Marc also wants to extend use to other schools in Thanet.
He said: “It is important that people can come and use the facilities and we would use booking so we can also keep the site secure, but we want everyone to benefit and to get involved. We have great volunteers who help look after the site and we hope to encourage even more people to get involved.”
Keep up to date with the progress on the Bright Start Community Forest School facebook page or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Research has shown that children and young people are stimulated by the outdoors and the Forest School experience, over time,helps increase their self belief, confidence, learning capacity, enthusiasm, communication and problem-solving skills and emotional well-being.
Forest School settings mean children can carry out a range of practical activities and achievable tasks. They can develop team working skills and also learn to become more independent. Those who are unfamiliar with woodlands and green spaces can become confident in using them and this can form the basis of a life-long relationship with natural spaces.
This development can then be transferred back in o their classrooms and have a positive effect on their English and Maths levels.
Outdoor spaces also have a range of benefits for adults with an immersion in nature reducing stress levels, depression and anxiety, improving the immune system and contributing to positive mental health.