Holly & Hawthorn Forest School is a community group based on the outskirts of Shepton Mallet which aims to provide children with opportunities to build confidence, new skills, and independence through positive outdoor activities.
Kaye Watts from the group told us about how a £2,800 grant from our Somerset Coronavirus Appeal is helping to restart sessions after the coronavirus outbreak and providing free access for children from low-income households.
“It’s been a difficult few months as we lost about half of our income because of the outbreak. I was able to keep working in some schools, but everything else was wiped out. It was tough to try and start again because I needed to make sure we could cover our costs and avoid running at a loss. Without funding from Somerset Community Foundation, we wouldn’t have been able to do it.
Our sessions are based on the Forest School ethos, which means that children choose what they want to do from lots of different activities, and we give them the support and tools they need. If they want to hunt bugs, we give them a magnifying glass and an identification sheet, or if they want to build dens, we show them different kinds of knots. We want to help them build resilience and independence so they can learn how to support themselves as they explore.
I’ve always been passionate about removing financial barriers for children whose families can’t afford activities like these. As soon as I set up Holly & Hawthorn Forest School I secured funding from grants and donations so that around a third of our places are free for children from low-income families.
Many of the children who come to us are living in flats without gardens or little outside space. After months of being off school and at home, there have been a lot of restrictions on the children and it’s been really hard for parents, too. Coming to our woodland sessions gives children a safe place and freedom to explore the outdoors and get used to socialising with other children again, which is great for their mental health.
Lots of our parents also really need downtime themselves. Their child coming here means they have a few hours where they know their child is safe and it gives them some respite. If they have other children, like a younger sibling, it also means they can have some quality time with them where they have their undivided attention. It’s great to be able to offer that support to the whole family.”