February 4, 2022
Forest School Journal: Preparing the ground for Project Grow
Shared Earth Learning is a forest school in Somerset that supports disadvantaged young people. As we’re sponsoring their newest initiative, we’re delighted to hear what they’ve been up to:
It’s become a tradition that Shared Earth Learning Forest School gives the land, and the students, a break in January, while the leaders and volunteers prepare for the year ahead.
The Shared Earth Learning Forest School site and allotments in Somerset
Our co-directors and forest school leaders have been exceptionally busy, using this time for planning and preparation. Shared Earth Learning Forest School is a charitable society that aims to nurture a love of nature, prioritising the needs of the least advantaged in our community. We’re inspired by a deep love of nature and co-operative ideals.
This year will be our busiest ever. We’re beginning ‘Project Grow,’ a new outdoor education project for 16- to 18-year-olds. We’ve improved and expanded our forest school site and allotments to make space for this project, and we have recruited four new forest school leaders.
Forest school leaders planning for the year ahead
We’ve juggled the jigsaw of timetables and rotas into shape, applied for more funding, and set up sessions with local schools and colleges. With help from volunteers and work experience students, we’ve shifted at least three tons of woodchip and compost, making the site paths more manageable and a lot less muddy. (This makes a massive difference during wet weather on our heavy clay site in Somerset.) Drainage ditches have been dug and deepened and our brand new polytunnel for “Project Grow” is finally complete.
The Project Grow polytunnel is ready for the new students to begin planting this spring.
‘Project Grow’ is supported by the National Lottery and Vastern Timber. It began because we have been running groups for years with young people who aren’t engaging in mainstream education, and we can see that this provision shouldn’t end when they turn 16. So, working with local social enterprises, we have set up a community growing project for young people in Frome and surrounding villages, to help improve their life chances, engage with training and improve their wellbeing.
Our aim is to support 16-18 year olds in building their self-esteem, confidence and emotional literacy by engaging with practical activities on the land. Teenagers at Project Grow can develop a connection with the natural world, learn how to grow food and produce for market, and gain awareness of the importance of ecological sustainability. They can develop skills in teamwork, planning and communication.
Forest School student notes on the radish harvest
As part of this project we are working with youth workers and academic researchers to help them understand what sort of interventions are most useful for young people. So, as well as delivering this new service, we are hoping to get clear evidence that young people who feel disconnected from opportunities can really benefit from outdoor learning. We hope that by working to gather the evidence for what works for this age group – as we already do for schools – we can really demonstrate the benefits of forest school for teenagers.
It is often the case that small charities (like us) working on new projects (like Project Grow) can experience cash flow problems during the setup phase. The generous donation of £5000 from Vastern Timber, which we received at the start of this year, has been very helpful indeed. We’re looking forward to welcoming our first students, and establishing ‘Project Grow,’ to help local teenagers engage with learning, community and the natural landscape.
Thanks from all of us at Shared Earth Learning.
Find out more about Project Grow on our new website, sharedearthlearning.org/project-grow