Red Rose refugee week session, Nutsford Vale

I approached this session with some trepidation for several reason. It was at the end of a very busy and tiring week, I did not know the group (30 young people with adult helpers), the site was devoid of the seating logs we had used previously and the weather forecast was for rain, and in Manchester…rain is RAIN.

As it turned out, the 30 were 16, there were enough logs scattered over the site, the rain held off and the group were fantastic.

All of the attendees, young people and adult helpers were enthusiastic, interested and a joy to be around.

At the end of my busy week, they made the session fun and exciting and gave me a lesson in not forming preconceptions!

GMEU – Nutsford Vale

We were back in Nutsford vale today after a long absence.

Strange to think that we worked two days a week on this site for nearly a year with children from the Grange Special School and other local schools.

Today we were in support of GMEU who were running wildlife walks on the site in a bid to interest local people in wildlife recording. We were still very much in Bee mode but added to this Hapa zome card making for fathers day and clay tiles with stone mosaic patterns and embossed leaves.

While the event was not on the scale of the previous weeks celebration at Salford Meadows, it was good to see familiar faces and a few new ones too.

Nutsford Vale looked wonderful with the grass high and wild flowers in bloom.

Unfortunately the logs in the area where we used to run sessions have all disappeared which is a bit of an issue for next weekend. Maybe the pirates were at Nutsford Vale too!

Salford Meadows Celebration event

Today was blisteringly hot on the Meadows, hundreds of people turned out to take part in a fantastic free event organises by Red Rose Forest to celebrate the rejuvenation of this Inner city wildlife area.

We took along the small open fronted Tipi made by my dad a couple of years ago, simple single pole structure, easy to put up and a god send in the heat.

Families with young children and, at one point a few teenagers, came along to make, cone bees (courtesy of Lily Horsman, Kindling play work and training), woolly caterpillars in boxes and wood cookie birds.

I spent the whole afternoon helping children drill holes for legs, beaks and tails for their birds while Lisa made bees and caterpillars. Some of the birds that the children came up with were completely different to the usual side view birds and gave me some great ideas to take forward.

The whole event had a wonderful atmosphere and was a fitting end to the project on this site.

Photographs were taken by Red Rose and can be seen here:

GMEU – Salford Meadows

IMG_3778What better way to spend ones birthday that by visiting Salford Meadows. Greater Manchester Ecology Unit were having a wildlife day and we went along, pitched the tent and worked with local families making a variety of stick and string things.

We set up the willow bird feeder making outside of the tent to prevent whippy-stick-in-eye syndrome and this was manned to great effect by GMEU and Red Rose staff.

Though the day was a little cool for the time of year the event was well attended with over 50 people turning up.

St Mary’s RC Primary, Dukinfield

One of the best ways to continue professional development as a Forest schools practitioner is to work with different groups in different settings or, if you are luckily enough, step into someone else’s shoes for a day. I had the opportunity to do just that on Wednesday at St Mary’s RC Primary school in Dukinfield.

I had been asked to stand in for a day at the school by Andy Hennel who works as a Forest schools practitioner alongside trained practitioners amongst the teaching staff while Andy was on holiday.

The school has recently been rebuilt and part of its new vision was to make use of its wooded area. The day involved working with years 3, 5 and 6 followed by an after school bushcraft club for year 4. I ran sessions on bow saw use, sheath knife, tree identification and for the bushcraft club, atl atl.

The staff involved were very enthusiastic about Forest schools and the school is making use of committed parent helpers in the delivery of the provision.

It was a fantastic opportunity to see Forest schools being delivered in a school setting with the aim to allow all of the children the opportunity to benefit. The children themselves were very enthusiastic and motivated by the activities and all of the groups were a pleasure to work with.

Forest schools provision across a whole school is bound to take on a curriculum focus as well as being an approach for  the development of individuals. While the ethos of Forest schools shies away from notions of school curriculum, I do believe that schools can have their cake and eat it as long as they do as St Mary’s have done and put the ethos at the core of their provision.

A most enjoyable day in someone else’s shoes.

Nutsford Vale Nature Day

Sometimes one feels as though the weather is out to make ones job harder when working in the great outdoors. After a very wet Summer, it was such a pleasure to take part in the Nutsford Vale Nature day in glorious sunshine. The Vale looked wonderful decked out in wild flowers with trees in fruit and dragonflies zipping through the air and causing squeals of excitement from children.

There were lots of activities to take part in and with a steady crowd throughout the day, I was kept busy making bird feeders from birch harvested onsite as part of the woodland management process.

As the afternoon wore on I seemed to get busier and was luckily enough to be helped out by the husband of one of the Friends of Nutsford Vale members. Children and parents showed lots of patience and dedication as they sawed, cleaved and nailed their bird feeders before filling them with peanuts and leaving happy.

This was one of those days when it just seems impossible to say “stop, we are done, it is time for us to go”. So when the last nail was hammered we looked around to find that we were the only ones left, just a small crowd of parents and children enjoying a day in the sun, in September, in Manchester.

The Challenge

Following on from the BHMAT Woodland Pioneer Week I had two days at Nutsford Vale in Manchester working with groups of young people as part of their Challenge programme.

The Challenge programme brings small teams of 15-16 year olds together and offers them the opportunity to gain experience and attain the skills which would be useful in the voluntary sector.

In just about the best weather of the year, three groups litter picked the site, planted bulbs then made bird feeders from logs sourced from the site.

SPIKE kids club 2

The second session at the Meadows was a little more manageable in terms of numbers. The weather forecast was for rain but it held off and despite the sky being grey, the day was pleasant and warm.

This session was to begin with the dragonfly story which leads nicely onto children making their own creatures out of clay and whatever they can forage from the surrounding area. Most of the children had attended the previous week’s session and immediately started building homes for their creatures. Following the snack and drink, we walked along the path to the pond at the opposite end of the Meadows. Some of the children wanted to run through the grass and wild flowers which were waist height and higher on some of them.

On the way to the pond we picked up large pieces of bark which I had spotted earlier and before I had chance to make the suggestion, children were making boats to sail. Some of the adults expressed the usual concerns around getting wet, ruining shoes and falling in but with me in the water up to my knees and a bag of towels, they were persuaded that a little water was a harmless thing.

The beauty of a bark boat is that it is quick and easy to make, especially if one has secreted a little willow nearby fir the masts. On the downside, they are not the most seaworthy crafts. This prompted the children to explore boat building anew. Holes were drilled, sticks tied together and masts woven.

How wonderful the moment when a leaf powered raft set sail in the breeze only for a pair of damselflies to hop aboard to investigate.

SPIKE kids club 1

The first SPIKE kids club session on the Meadows ran this afternoon. This was one of those “suck it and see” sessions in which one has no idea just how many participants will turn up.

As it happened, SPIKE staff had leafleted the estate and residents had discussed the session on Facebook. As a result we were inundated with something like sixty attendees.

Luckily the blistering heat of the last couple of days had subsided enough to make the afternoon comfortable for playing out on the meadow itself.

Management of such a large group comes with its share of issues, not enough seating, groups wandering off then coming back again, mobile phone conversations taking place during the session. The only thing to do is to talk louder, engage with those who want to take part and ride the chaos train to session end.

After a while, once the participants got an idea of what we were about, there was a subtle change in the atmosphere, things settled down and seemed to get easier. Kelly kettles were lit and the adults conversed over tea and biscuits, some for the first time with each other.

We took the children onto the meadow to build shelters with tarps and sticks (the Meadows is quite resource poor unless one considers dog faeces a resource) Some parents helped, some stood and watched.

Feedback from SPIKE staff and residents working in the community was very positive “this is just what we need here”

Friars Early Years Nature Play

As part of the Red Rose Forest offering to local schools around The Meadows in Salford, Friars Junior school requested two one day sessions to promote natural play outside with their Early Years children.

Groups of around 10 – 13 came outside to play in an area which was quite lacking in any natural resources. With a little ingenuity and by bringing to the site a few log rounds, some sticks and pine cones, we demonstrated how children can successfully engage with the natural world even in a space that seemingly lacked scope for such activities.

The feedback from staff was very positive with plans now being drawn up to enhance the area and incorporate more natural world play into their Early Years setting.