01 May 2024

Nature Matters

Nature Matters

Director General of the National Trust visits 

On Tuesday 16 April 2024, Hilary McGrady, the Director General (AKA the big, big boss of the National Trust), and other senior NT leaders of the regional and local areas visited The Swanage School and St Mark's Primary School to see firsthand projects that have benefitted from support and funding co-ordinated by the National Trust to help more young people engage with nature.

St Mark's pupils were proud to show off their Forest School and TSS students Rory and Izzy helped guide the group around The Swanage School's Green Space, showcasing the progress and the future plans to expand and bring more students in.

[The Swanage School Green Space, April 2024]

With support of the National Trust

The National Trust have been fundamental in the enhancement and use of the outside areas across both schools, securing funding from the Fine Family Foundation for the last two academic years as part of Sibyl Fine King’s reign as High Sheriff of Dorset in 2021-22. Funding from the Nature Heals seedling fund enabled the purchase of extra equipment and paid school staff to run family forest and gardening clubs at St Mark’s and Saturday morning family forest school at The Swanage School. New for 2023/4 has been the addition of half-termly trips hosted by the National Trust at amazing locations across the landscape such as Talbot Woods, Dancing Ledge, Studland, Corfe Castle and the Purbeck Heaths. 

[Izzy, Rory and pupils from St Mark's Primary listen alongside Hilary McGrady, NT Director General, and Rebecca Burton, NT South West Regional Director in a discussion about the benefits of engaging with nature.]

Hilary was joined for the visit by National Trust colleagues:

  • South West Regional Director Rebecca Burton
  • South West Assistant Director Ian Wilson
  • Purbeck General Manager Tracey Churcher
  • Purbeck Land and Nature Programme Manager David Brown
  • Volunteering & Community Manager for Purbeck Tom Clarke
  • Purbeck Project Officer Alex Brocklesby

Hilary said:

We know how important it is for children to have the chance to connect with nature from a young age, so it is fantastic to see schools and communities in Purbeck working together to give children this opportunity right the way through their school years. Thank you to the students and staff at St Mark's and The Swanage School for an inspiring visit.

A skilled Forest School Leader

To make all this happen, both schools are supported by Scott Johnson, a forest school leader who works with several schools in the Purbeck area. Mr Johnson works with families, students volunteering for their Duke of Edinburgh Award and students who use the spaces during the day, continually developing the sites. Scott says: 

The engagement of families is rewarding both for us and them. From pre-school and primary at St Mark’s through to secondary at The Swanage School, I see children from the ages of 2 to 16 come in all weathers, with their family, to spend time in a tech-free environment, knee-deep in nature. They have fun but I also see them grow in confidence, improve their wellbeing and develop not only garden maintenance and building skills, but also life skills such as managing risks, setting goals, solving problems and working together.

[Scott Johnson showcases the work done on The Swanage School's Green Space with the benefit of funding. L-R: Scott Johnson, Alex Brocklesby, Hilary McGrady, David Brown, Ian Wilson and Tom Clarke.]

Part of a wider initiative

The Swanage School is part of a nature movement across Purbeck working towards nature-centred schools and enabling nature-centred families in Purbeck. This important project, led by Tom and Alex from the National Trust, aims to engage more families and young people with nature by facilitating a partnership of nine Purbeck schools, local activity providers Land & Wave, Cumulus, Fore Adventure and Brenscombe Outdoors, land owners such as themselves, the RSPB, Dorset Wildlife Trust and the Amphibian & Reptile Conservation Trust, local tenant farmers Wessex Wild, community groups such as Planet Purbeck, and others such as Natural England, Dorset National Landscapes and Holme For Gardens. Many other organisations and groups across Purbeck are also on board. The aims of the project include the creation of family resources, enabling more school trips within Purbeck, providing in-school nature sessions, delivering opportunities for work experience and promoting careers working in rural and outdoor environments. 

The programme, which will launch in September 2024 at the Planet Purbeck festival, also aims to bring together a network of local volunteers who want to support all of this to happen.

If this sounds like something you or a relative/friend have the time to want to support, please get in touch with Alex on: Alexandria.brocklesby@nationaltrust.org.uk

[Tree-planting photo-op! Izzy and Rory assist Hilary McGrady to plant a tree on the St Mark's site.]

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