Once upon a time, 3 unlikely companions became friends. From the outside you would never put these 3 together, however a great love of tea drinking and the passion that all children should be allowed to play made this the perfect team.
When I’m telling stories I like to start it with “Once upon a time”. It’s the perfect introduction to a story. That anticipation that the listener/reader has is magical. Why not start the Larksfoot story with a magical beginning! I can’t talk for Caroline or Sylvia and why they wanted to start their own forest school journey and Larksfoot but I can share my story.It all started when Karin (me) had a crazy idea. It was after completing the first week of Forest school training, I knew that I needed to change the way I cared for children. I had been witnessing how the children responded outdoors instead of being indoors for a few years, fewer arguments, more laughter, a lot more confidence appearing in the children when they were out in nature and I myself feeling so much happier teaching the children about the outdoors. The gifts it brings with it. Change of seasons, creatures you see and the sense of adventure. Forest school training showed me that I could change and that I desperately wanted to, I didn’t want to care for children in my home anymore.
I wanted to give children a childhood like mine. I wanted them to feel free, out exploring, feeling like you were miles away from home, on an adventure with your mates, discovering great lands, building tree houses, and playing until I was called back in for tea. We were not entertained by grown-ups, my parents were not my mates, I had this gang of cool kids, riding bikes, making these cool ramps to go on our bikes with, stealing tools and nails from our dads sheds so we could make bogies to ride down the hill on. A life of risk-taking, free and wild. This is what I want to give children now. In 2020, just like my childhood in the 80’s. When I learned more and more about Forest school and started to understand the importance of play in childhood I looked back at my own childhood it was all so similar. I want to give children the gift of freedom and play.
How do you even start to build your own Forest school, What do you need? Woodland, like minded people, tea, information and knowledge and some big old guts. I called up so many other companies, I spoke for hours with people I didn’t know, some calls were a success and some were not. I got some great advise from alot of people. Who were more than happy to chat to this very enthusiastic woman they have never met before. I put the word out in the village and looked at a few spaces that were just not quite right. I only wanted a place to take my childminder children to a couple of mornings a week.
I put a shout out on Facebook asking if anyone had a woodland that they might like to let me use and Lindsey Simmons got in touch. She mentioned Lucy Arthur at Leighton Hall might have a spot you can use, call her up. I still owe Lindsey a bottle for this link up. It was getting serious now. I couldn’t do this on my own and one day, over a brew Caroline said she would do it with me. She decided to get herself booked onto Forest school training and came with me for our meeting at Leighton Hall. That was where the 5 year plan started to take shape. The meeting with Lucy and her mum was the most exciting meeting I think I have ever had. Lucy and us saw an opportunity for more than just a couple of hours in the woods.
It all started to fall into place, in March 2020 we registered the CIC (community interest company). It’s a not for profit company, after wages everything else gets put back into the company. We wanted to support people struggling with childcare, free spaces in the holidays, funded spaces in holiday clubs and other groups. Not just for children but for adults too. We can apply for grants but also want to self fund. In 5 years we were hoping to get to that point. Then Covid happened. Now that 5 year plan was looking at being 10 years. “Are we really going to be able to make Larksfoot happen??” We, like everyone else, were locked into our homes. After a couple of months of lockdown, I call Caroline up. “Caroline, I can never work from my home ever again, I hate being in the house, and I am quitting childminding, how would you feel if we were an outdoor childcare setting and we were outside all the time in the woods???” Caroline being the amazing person she is agreed.
“Yes, Let’s do it! We can make this work.”Caroline – Lockdown #1 2020
We called Lucy, and had some more chats with her and in Sept 2020 we took 8 children to the woods 3 times a week. Due to our Ofsted registration, we were only able to have the children in the woods 50% of the time we care for them. We made it work. We were based deep in the grounds of Leighton Hall with no facilities, no toilet, no heating, and only a bell tent for shelter. It was the best time of my working life. It was so simple. Life was simple and the kids thrived. I knew from this moment I had made the best decision. I am so glad Caroline was up for it and so awesome. Finding someone that is as game as you are is the luckiest thing that can happen to you.
We, unfortunately, couldn’t stay in this location. Lucy and her team were still so keen for us to be there that they showed us an old walled garden that had previously been used as aviaries for birds of prey. The big gates hadn’t been opened in so long that when we were shown around they were so overgrown. It was a bit overwhelming, to begin with. Thankfully Sylvia has this positive outlook and she confidently agreed.
“Yes, Let’s do it! We can make this work.”Sylvia – Lockdown #3 2020
During this time Lucy got in touch with us about a grant to help companies during covid and this is when the 5 year plan became a 1 year plan.
The Covid recovery grant ensured the renovation of the studio could happen. We could have a beautiful Yurt and wood burner for the winter months and it gave Leighton Hall the opportunity to rejuvenate their school trip packages. They got us in to help create 4 outdoor school programs, enabling school trips at Leighton to start back earlier (outdoor activities being open earlier post covid). We have been delivering these now for 2 years and the feedback from the schools and the children is fantastic.
We’ve been so busy. We have had 2 summers running holiday clubs and been lucky enough to offer funded spaces for both summers for children that receive pupil premium and certain other benefits.
Along the way we have employed lots of amazing people to help us deliver school trips, holiday clubs and also help manage the preschool. I am blessed to get to work with the most wonderful team of people. I can’t believe how lucky we are that they want to work with us.
With almost 2 years in the Hazel tree retreat and over a year being an Ofsted registered preschool/childcare setting, this was one thing I didn’t initially see us doing. It seemed to be the only option for us. The Ofsted registration visit couldn’t have gone better, the inspector was so impressed with what we have on offer. It really motivated us to make this something special. With that came Rachel, Heather and Naomi who are true naturals. To be called a boss just doesn’t seem real. Later in the year our very own Sylvia came to join us and work in the preschool. She wasn’t initially able to jump on the 5 year plan in the space of 1 year. Emily joined us in Nov and for now the team is complete in the preschool.
This year saw us welcome older children to the childcare setting, we are trialling how that will work on a Thursday. The different ages together works so well and the older children help with younger and they all play together. It’s a true community now. It feels like a community in so many ways. These children are doing what I envisioned, playing, creating, laughing, caring for themselves and others.
True friendships. A childhood of AWE and Wonder. Grown ups that come to work and are happy.
What will come in 2023 I don’t know. Anything can happen.