On Thursday last week Ruskin Land was a hive of activity. A long crocodile of small children walked by on their way to Coppers Mill by Dowles Brook, from the Frank Chapman educational outdoor activity centre on the outskirts of Bewdley. Meanwhile the manager of the centre Stuart Meese was attending the education seminar we had organised at the Ruskin Studio. He was joined by staff from the Bishops Wood Centre, The Wyre Discovery Centre, Bodenham Arboretum, Bewdley Museum, Natural England, local Forest School providers and others with an interest in environmental education.
The seminar had a number of aims: to learn about local educational provision, consult about local needs, for everyone to meet each other, to explain the Ruskin Land Project and to hear from Jen Hurst the education officer from the New Sylva Foundation about their excellent organisation.
During the first session, on a drawing of a large tree with branches labelled wellbeing, training, events, physical activities, curriculum, research and lifelong learning attendees attached leaves explaining each activity they provide. The tree quickly became completely covered. Clearly the local area has many excellent initiatives and services already in place.
Jen then asked us to complete an outside activity putting in order photographs of the One Oak project. This was an initiative organised by the Foundation when pupils from primary schools in Oxfordshire watched a tree being felled then followed each stage in the production of the 50 products made from the wood. During her session we also heard about Sylva’s new online excellent educational resource ‘Timber’.
People were asked about ideas for the Ruskin Land project and outcomes they would like to come from the seminar. Everyone wanted to meet again as a group and continue to network. The opportunity for pupils to visit farm animals so they learn where their food comes from, social forestry for patients with mental health issues, more art and craft activities at Bewdley Museum and the need for more provision for older people were highlighted as gaps. Many participants were interested in working together on a Big Draw event at St George’s in October 2016, others offered introductions to staff in schools in the poorer areas of Kidderminster and Birmingham so we can build on our contacts and visitors.
The sawmill development
At the same time a huge tractor carrying two slightly smaller machines arrived at St George’s Farm to flatten and dig trenches for water and electricity on the site that is to become the sawmill.
After only 2 days the area was flattened and trenches dug, as well as some pipes laid. The intention is to develop a market for firewood,charcoal, planks and other wood products to raise much needed income for the Wyre Community Land Trust run from Ruskin Land.
Early outcomes from the seminar
Jen from Sylva pointed out that as Worcester has the largest number of Forest School providers in the country 400 in all, many of them near by would be delighted to have the off cuts from the sawmill to support their work. This would mean none of the wood from our precious trees would be wasted.
Only the day after the seminar the development of an educational visit involving children walking through Ruskin Land was being discussed by email. This might include a visit to the animals at Uncllys farm, drawing in the old barn with refreshments, discussions about why the new orchard is being planted as well as exploring the history of the area and the people who initially settled here.