A new Forest School is helping children get back to nature in Cornwall
PUBLISHED: 11:06 21 August 2019 | UPDATED: 11:10 21 August 2019
If you go down to the woods today...you’ll find an oasis of calm and fascination, discovers Su Carroll
Jo Cooper grew up in a remote corner of Wales which instilled in her a love of the countryside. Now living in Cornwall she found the perfect job - working in beautiful woodland just a mile from the coast at Carbis Bay. The 26-acre Cubit Woods is a picture postcard woodlands with views across the Hayle Estuary and the north coast beaches and many natural features. There's a diverse range of habitats, glades, a hazel coppice, orchard, lake, pools and a stream.
"It's so lovely and quiet here," says Jo. "As you walk down in the woods, you can't hear the cars. And we tell people to turn off their phones and enjoy the woodland sounds. It's quite lovely and it has my heart.
"I never knew it was here until I came six years ago to clear the invasive rhododendrons and laurels. And I've never left."
The initial task was to care for the woodland, but then the idea of a Forest School was born. Now Heart of the Woods runs experiences for schools and young children, woodland skills workshops including working with horses, coppicing, green woodwork and charcoal. There are team building and bonding days and even children's parties.
In this green oasis, the natural instinct is to breathe in, breathe out… and relax. Jo knows first-hand the benefits of such an environment for young people. While working in the woodland, she brought her three young sons - then aged six, eight and ten - to visit and they found solace in the woods after enduring a traumatic experience.
"I saw the benefits of them playing and being wild," she says. "The woodland was perfect. There were three islands, so they had one each, and they were playing, building dens and getting muddy. It's really quite shocking how many children don't get the chance to play in Nature, even in Cornwall. It's very wild in the woods here and you can stop what you're doing and slow down.
"We set up the Heart of the Woods Forest School to run activities. It's really important that children get the sense that they are in the middle of the woods. There they can see what a tree is and understand things about Nature that might not be so easy to understand in a classroom.
"It's really great having the Forest School. We have a brilliant home education group, some of them come all the way from Falmouth. For them the woods offer the chance for socialising, which is something they don't always get. And we've started working with Choice, an organisation in Cornwall for people with a learning disability. We can get people in wheelchairs in here who have never been to woodlands. Woods can be scary for some people, but this experience can help build up confidence. We have a lovely campfire and we do campfire cooking.
"The wood is now thriving. It's an area rich in history. I believe it was once an ancient woodland - we know we can go back to 1740 when trees were felled and the area replanted as plantation. There's also a mine for copper here which was very well hidden until we found it two years ago. The local estate planted an orchard here in 1820 when they established the mine."
The owners of the wood are happy for Heart of the Woods to carry on what they're doing.
"We're putting together a woodland management plan and we're looking ahead 30 years all the time," says Jo. "The woodland is privately owned and I've been involved in a lot of the groundwork and there is a sense of stewardship. We're teaching children about sustainability for their future.
"The parties are great fun for everyone. We have a massive camp fire and people just relax. All they can hear are the sounds of the woodland. We had one young boy who just wanted to lie down and look at the leaves on the trees.
"The love of the woodland lives with you forever. Here we're nurturing woodlands and nurturing people."
Find out more
Heart of the Woods were helped by the Real Ideas Organisation - set up the deliver change through social enterprise, improving people's communities, lives and developing their individual potential.
They run social enterprises including, in Plymouth, the Column Bakehouse in the Royal William Yard and Devonport Guildhall, a social enterprise community hub. They deliver strategic programmes focussed on creativity, culture and social enterprise.
Jo Cooper and the team at Heart of the Woods got help from RIO from the beginning. "We didn't have a clue about starting up a business and we needed that business support. We wanted to make sure we were getting everything sorted in terms of Health and Safety and that sort of thing," says Jo. "There are rules and regulations and health and safety considerations and all of that, but there's an unusual situation in England in that there isn't a governing body as such for Forest Schools so it was good to have that support."
For more information, visit heartofthewoods.org.