Rowdeford Outdoor Learning and the new Ingrid Sidmouth Centre
John Craze, Outdoor Learning Development Coordinator and Terry Kemp, Rowdeford Charity Trust look back over the project and into the future
Thanks to the efforts and support of so many people we have raised over two hundred thousand pounds to build a purpose built ‘Outdoor Learning Centre to grow the existing ‘Outdoors Learning’ education here at Rowdeford School. From the very beginning of the project and the expansion of the initial ideas the intention was to create an exemplary facility that extends its work to involve the wider community, visiting schools and offer training; becoming a Centre of Excellence in Outdoor Learning.
Fundraising activities took on a wide range of opportunities with the Rowdeford Charity Trust always eager to not miss any opportunity. The Garden Fair of course is an important part of the local events calendar and raises many thousands each year. On top of that there was Burns Night parties, Film nights, Operas and many other fun and profitable events. We have one of our Trustees, Maggie Moore, running the Great North Run and also Alex Husk undertaking the Iron Man Challenge. On top of that we had written to and spoken with many charitable organisations who have been very generous. Most have been named on a plaque that will be on display in the Centre as a modest but heart felt way of recognising their support. We are so grateful for their generosity.
The original ‘Kennels’ building (formerly school farm dairy & animal housing) was in a state of dereliction and we have sympathetically restored the building as a simple, functional, weatherproof space repairing brickwork, timber and roof coverings. The intention was to be ‘minimalist’ in the refurbishment and within the restored spaces insert ‘pods’ or ‘self-contained’ units of free-standing accommodation creating storage and toilet facilities. This maintains the structure very closely to its 19th C origins and allows for integration of habitats e.g. swallows, bats. We already had a Tawny Owl using the facility as a roost.
It should be mentioned that before the building professionals moved in a significant amount of work was undertaken by volunteers. Thanks should be given to the Teams from Lloyds Bank, Royal Wootton Basset School, a team of Rowdeford Charity Trustees as well as staff and pupils from the school.
Previously this area of the school was out of bounds to pupils, now the building has been completed the learning area has been transformed. The renovated barn provides a valuable working space which functions as a learning stepping stone between woodland and classroom. With space to store essential equipment and resources, toilet facilities, sinks and worktops it helps make the woodland quicker and easier to access. This means that this inspirational area of the school is getting used more often for everything from literacy activities and art work to bug hunts and shelter building.
The new building works in partnership with the yurt, the yurt provides the creative classroom space which is popular for art, life skills and drama while the new Ingrid Sidmouth Centre provides the facilities and the resources. This phase in the development of outdoor learning at Rowdeford has also allowed us to look outwardly in terms of what additional programmes we can deliver and what we can offer to other schools, youth and community groups. We can now provide an excellent Duke of Edinburgh camp ground with a number of different areas available on the site for groups to pitch tents, all within easy reach of the yurt and facilities in the Ingrid Sidmouth Centre. You don’t have to do the D of E to camp at Rowdeford though as the facilities are open to hire for any school or community groups. The school has recently become directly licensed with the Duke of Edinburgh Charity and the new facilities are helping the school to develop a gold residential programme. This will be open to candidates anywhere in the country and will help break down boundaries between mainstream and special schools, providing a unique volunteering experience. The school woodland links in with footpaths that lead up to Roundway Hill and the White Horse Trail and part of the volunteering will involve the maintenance and improvement of these trails for Rowdeford pupils and other users.
The schools Plus Programme currently works with forty pupils from other secondary schools around Wiltshire, the additional facilities will allow us to develop this programme further and increase the age range to primary school children. Last year we ran a number of trial days with primaries such as River Mead in Melksham and Monkton Park in Chippenham attending. The programme has the potential to offer places for pupils who may come to Rowdeford in the future and help with transition. Additionally it will offer support to pupils who will not come to Rowdeford the opportunity to learn in a different and inspirational learning environment.
The Ingrid Sidmouth Centre provides the school with facilities on the doorstep to the woods and it is hoped that this will enable the school to attract more volunteers, either individuals or groups who are interested in the active management of the woodland. People young or old that would like to be a part of bringing an ancient coppiced woodland back to life and enjoy sharing in learning new skills such as green woodworking or hurdle making.
The opening of the new facilities certainly provide a great many opportunities for the school. It marks the next stage in the developmental journey of increasing the effectiveness of outdoor learning at Rowdeford School. This year the school will reapply for the Learning Outside the Classroom Gold Award, having received this accolade three years ago we have helped other schools with the development of outdoor learning in their settings. Over the next six months we will look more closely at accessibility across our site and examine what we can do to improve inclusivity in our outdoor learning environment. Our experience will be shared to continue to help others develop their outdoor areas, and help to make the outdoors more accessible and integrated across the wider learning community.