How To Set Up A Forest School

Our resident site expert, Rob Kendall, aka ‘Minty’

Life as we know it being paused has had one major effect on a lot of people over the last 9 months. It has allowed a period of reflection that they might not otherwise have been afforded. For a lot of people, this break from normality has helped them to reassess their life and plans, what they enjoy about what they’re currently doing, and what they’d like to change. Here at The Outdoors Group, we’ve seen a significant increase in interest for the various Adult Training courses that we run as people decide to take their career in a new direction. Consequently, we thought we’d share our five top tips of things you need to know if you’re thinking about setting up your own Forest School provision. For this, I picked the brain of Rob Kendall (aka Minty of Minty’s Moments), our Estates Manager for what he thought the most important things that you should consider are.

1. Location

Where are your customers going to be coming from? There may be some beautiful woodland sites that would make your perfect forest school but they have to be near enough a decent customer base.  Parents want somewhere they can drop the kids off that is not too far out of the way.  Being located near a town or city is a great advantage.  If the site is remote or down a dirty pot holed track this will put people off and it could be inaccessible in the winter.  Remember woods do not have to be massive to get the forest school feeling.

2. Parking

Sorry to harp on about cars again but the reality in most cases is that people will travel by car to your forest school.  The amount of parking will be the ultimate limit as regards the amount of activity you can have on the site.  Parking could be on the roadside if the situation allows but even better if the woodland has a car park.

Will this ramshackle barn be a hindrance or a help?

3. Planning and Neighbours

A woodland for sale may have a convent on it that would prevent any activity that is out of the ordinary, such as a forest school.  The concept of a forest school can be quite puzzling to planners and they only really get it once your are there and you can show them.  Applying the planning process to what surmounts to a collection of sheds, a tarp and a compost toilet is an interesting process.  It is hard to summarise planning briefly as the advice would be bespoke to your site.  Neighbours can make or break your forest school so think about possible impacts on them. This could include increased traffic, noise pollution, privacy…etc

4. Layout

Keep infrastructure clustered together.  This will make all aspects of working on the site easier and the build will be cheaper.  Also, the overall effect will be to leave the majority of the site free of structures and the like.  Afterall, you want to enjoy the woods for what they are.  Think about how you can move materials and deliveries to site.  If you put your camp on the top of a hill you will be cursing everytime you forget something you have left in the car park.

5. Pathways, Compaction and Mud

If you visit the site in the middle of summer be sure to imagine it in the winter.  Also be aware your regular activity will take a toll on the ground, it can become compacted.  Some sites are naturally well drained but if you are on clay, mud will be an issue.  I like a bit of mud as much as the next guy but things can get out of hand quickly, especially around fire pits and pathways.  Defining pathways away from tree routes and adding woodchip helps direct foot traffic and limit damage.  The busier your site, the more robust your paths needs to be.  On our busiest sites we have started using stone and membrane around the fire pits as this is the only thing that holds back the mud.

A Good Starting Point

Hopefully this has helped if setting up a Forest School site is something you’re interested in doing, either as part of your existing job or as a new career move. However, if you’d like to find out more, don’t forget that we offer a Consultancy service designed to offer bespoke advice and support for those entering the exciting world of outdoor education! For now though, keep your eyes peeled on our blog as we’ll return in a few weeks to share our Lead Trainer, Neil Martin’s, thoughts on his favourite bits of Forest School kit!

Author: Collaboration between Rob Kendall, Estates Manager and Hannah Durdin, Administrator & Forest School Leader

Date: Friday 15th January 2021

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