Imaginations are running wild at a Darlington school, following the creation of a forest classroom.
The 20ft by 10ft construction at Marchbank Free School – donated by Vistry Partnerships North East, with Tees Valley Joinery (TVJ) providing the base and erecting the classroom – will enhance outdoor teaching sessions. Features will include large double doors for wheelchair access and fully opening windows for additional ventilation.
The school’s existing wooded area is used for forest lessons, but with no shelter it can make outdoor activities challenging on the coldest and wettest of North East days. The new classroom will provide a safe space, where the children can still access the outdoors and get closer to nature.
Marchbank Free School, in Mowden, provides full time education for children aged 5-11 with social, emotional and mental health difficulties (SEMH) and additional complex needs. It caters for 40 children, with some travelling from as far as Harrogate to attend.
Tess Wright, Head of School, said: “We have been watching with interest the construction of the nearby Hallside development at Mowden Hall, so for Vistry to offer to create this outdoor teaching space has been fantastic. The benefit to our pupils of exploring the world around them through nature cannot be underestimated.
“We have witnessed children who have struggled in mainstream schools, resulting in patterns of challenging behaviour or withdrawing completely, develop confidence, resilience and coping strategies as a direct result of education within a more natural environment.
“Children’s learning, social development and wellbeing is firmly embedded when they are actively involved, rather than being passively taught. We are confident that this new facility will significantly enhance the learning experience.”
The students have also been involved in a competition to design the interior of the classroom.
Dave Brown, Operations Director with Vistry Partnerships North East, added: “This is a rewarding project to be involved with, as the benefits to Marchbank Free School, its pupils and staff are far reaching and long lasting. As an environmentally responsible developer, we like to add value to the communities in which we work by supporting fantastic initiatives such as this.”
Sold through Vistry’s housebuilding division, Linden Homes, Hallside is part of a £8.2 million scheme, which includes a comprehensive landscaping plan with almost 1,700 plants – including 27 new trees – a contribution of over £360,000 towards affordable housing provision elsewhere in Darlington Borough, improvements to pedestrian facilities in nearby Staindrop Road, maintenance of local sports and recreation pitches and a plan for the upkeep of public open space to be created.