It must have been nearly twenty years ago when the visionairy head of Moulsecoomb Primary Charles Davies invited a fledging forest garden team into the school to help transform a derelict garden.
Moulsecoomb was built as a garden estate but the spacious school grounds were typical green desert with lollipop trees dotted round endless grass. Nothing to fire the childre’s imagination, no where to shelter from the rain and sun. But Mr.Davies could see the potential and how children, especially those that struggle in the classroom, could thrive outside. I mean, who needs a roof to learn? Working with the children he set about planting hundreds of trees, digging ponds, building replica ancient buildings. I remember one cold winter the school being constantly covered in chalk as the children built the first chalk roundhouse in England for 5,000 years!
Moulsecoomb Forest Garden builds on this outdoor learning and working with the children long term can build relationships and deep learning rather than some tick box hour or so on the environment. Our regular holiday schemes are exclusively for Moulsecoomb Primary pupils and for the first time oversubscribed (but we squeezed everyone in).
Thanks to The Pebble Trust – the type of funders others should aspire too – we offer a wide range of activities: camp building, primitive technology, art, chickens (who the children know from the school). But we also let children be children and go with what they want to do, within reason! Pond dipping, hunting for slowworms, scoffing redcurrants and raspberries or just legging it around. Being on the edge of Brighton we can go for walks in the woods and let children climb trees and hunt for geodes and other treasure.
But we also know that for whatever reasons not all children – and often those that need it the most – won’t come to extra curricular activities, so we work in the school and get most year groups to come and visit our garden; doubly important when so many school trips have been covid cancelled. Teachers can then use these as a way of engaging children in literacy and stretching their vocabulary along with their taste buds. Can you spell secateurs or amphibians?
Geodes found in the woods
We know the children, their parents. Some parents we worked with all those years ago are now bringing their kids to our holiday schemes, making us feel as pre-historic as the geodes they find!
My children went to the school and I’ve been a governor for years so I know how hard Moulsecoomb Primary has to work to make sure everyone gets a well rounded education. Over half the pupils receive free school meals and over a quarter have special education needs. If only OFSTED did the right thing and measured from where a child starts at a school to where they end up it would get outstanding.
Watching the children have fun and feel comfortable at the garden shows us that those deep roots we have put down have paid off. And the legacy of Mr.Davies lives on. The school grounds have matured and are spectacular and we now have a vision to turn the place into an outdoor learning centre for everyone.
And as for that old garden we helped build; well once again it’s being transformed, while the replica houses are being repaired. There’s also regular holiday schemes at the school run by another visionary organisation – Brighton Table Tennis Club, who use sport just like we use gardening, to give all children in the city the opportunities they deserve; that help them flourish and learn – and enjoy being outdoors.