By Charlie Harman
Students can get even closer to nature now that – in a first for East Kent – a college has launched its own on-site forest school.
Broadstairs College officially opened its new green space on Monday (July 4) in a ceremony headed by EKC Group Chief Executive Officer Graham Razey OBE.
The forest school will be used by students from across the college, with learners getting the opportunity to develop a range of soft skills such as teamwork whilst finding out more about the natural world.
The forest school, which has been called ‘Nurture’, has reclaimed a long-disused patch of land that had become heavily overgrown. Assistant Principal Nicola Kelly developed the idea for the new provision several years ago and was finally able to realise her ambition when work started in October. With guidance from staff, students took part in creating the new area, picking up shovels and secateurs to complete the work.
Lecturer Rob Tye led the project, guiding more than 30 students through the development of the provision. He paid tribute to the incredible level of passion the learners had shown for creating the new forest school.
Launching the project, he said: “Already we’ve seen incredible impact just during the construction of the area. Students have consistently been coming to the provision and have even asked to stay behind after their regular College hours to spend more time learning in this new provision.
“It’s required a huge amount of work, from stripping trees of ivy, to laying paths and digging out weeds down to the roots. The fact that students took so well to these strenuous tasks and gained an interest in landscaping at the same time is very encouraging!
“The Level 3 Forest School training I’ve completed means we’ll be able to teach students how to make fires responsibly, use tools, and create art, shelter and structures from natural materials.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for the students, and I’d like to thank all of the staff and students involved in making this vision become a reality.”
The opening ceremony consisted of staff, the Chief Executive Officer and external stakeholders, who all got the opportunity to take a tour of Nurture, before enjoying a fire created by a student.
The student in question, Paris, had previously been very disengaged but noted how the project had helped her find a route back into learning, so much so that she was able to talk about the work in front of the gathered visitors.
Among the visitors was David Foley, Chief Executive of the Thanet and East Kent and Dover District Chambers of Commerce. He praised the Nurture project, saying: “This forest school will equip the students using it with much more than experience in a natural environment. It will also improve a wide range of skills, boosting mental wellbeing and community engagement.
“It offers an excellent example to Further Education providers everywhere, showing what can be achieved with the right ambition, staff, and students.”
Forest schools have been proven to provide a wide range of benefits to learners. According to Forestry Commission research, attendees come away with more confidence, better communication skills, bolstered knowledge of nature, and increased physical skills.
The government’s latest Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment shows that 16 – 24 year olds are least likely to access outside spaces, a fact that inspired Nicola’s original idea to create Nurture at the College. The forest school is the latest success in a string of efforts designed to make Broadstairs College a more environmental place to study.
Boxes were installed to create an on-site colony of swifts, and the College community are doing their utmost to support a family of foxes currently residing on the campus. For their hard work the College was recently given a bronze Wilder Kent award by the Kent Wildlife Trust.