Toryglen in the southeast of Glasgow is home to both a suburban social housing and private housing estate and a community woodland which is surprisingly rural. The community based organisation Urban Roots has been working here for a while on a range of projects, and most recently, there have been a few projects which have provided a range of opportunities for local children to explore the local woodland, a 8 hectar wild woodland which has so far been underused by the people living nearby. Having recognised the value of this resource, Urban Roots are determined to ensure it’s used much more, by adults and children alike.
So it’s high time to have a look at what exactly has been happening in Toryglen! I was surprised how many different strands of activities there have been over the past few months, sure enough I’ve heard of a few, but the breadth and creativity of activities only came to full light when I spoke to Community Ranger Tom Cooper from Urban Roots, who organises them all. Tom is supported by forest school practicioner Alice Warren (make sure to check out her blog Warren in the Woods)
With quite a lot of the initiatives, Urban Roots have worked together with the 2 local primary schools to help teachers, who had taken the initiative to approach the organisation with a view to using the woodlands as part of their curriculum and teaching. Specifically the project worked a few days with teachers to show what can be done in the woodland.
Following on from this, last April-June saw a 6 week programmes with schools, where children spent one afternoon a week per school working on particular themes. The children from P6 and P7 had free reign to set their own themes and the activities within their chosen theme. They came up with the forest Olympics and spent time designing games and exploring the woods. It all cuminated in an event where they shared their activities and learning with their parents.
In addition to the forest school sessions during school time, a programme of out of school sessions during the holidays in summer and spring was offered. This ran on 3 afternoons a week and children from the local area took part in it. They had a lot of fun with den building, roasting marsh mallows, climbing trees , making mud cakes and lighting fires. The holiday provision filled a real gap as there aren’t many activities happening locally during holidays.
And the return back to school didn’t stop the forest fun: Now there is also an after school forest club which runs from 5-7pm, and which works in partnership with the established after school club which is located in the same building. As most after school clubs, previously the kids had played indoors but with the support of Urban Roots the children went down to the woods for 4-5 weeks. They particularly enjoyed wildlife tracking thanks to the variety of wildlife to be found.
The local schools continue to have a keen interest in working in partnership with Urban Roots to extend the forest school activities on offer locally. Next up will be an interpretation project. Normally, information about parks and greenspaces is provided by interpretive panels about wildlife and history. However, Malls Mire has suffered its fair share of vandalism, so the project came up with the idea of developing an audio talk tour instead, and to link this in with working with primary schools. The children now have an opportunity to explore strands of interest, such as wildlife, trees, flowers, insects, beasties, deer/foxes, birds which they research in the classroom and the woods. They will then produce an audio recording which is hoped to make downloadable to smart phones with a QR code, which will be put up in the woods. Effectively this will offer a guided walk through a smart phone.
It doesn’t stop here though, and children from the secondary school will have an opportunity to get involved too, and work on a history project relating to the woodland. “Children know a lot about it already, they have their favourite little areas, and are very imaginative with the environment” notes Tom.
As a result of all of these activities, and the enjoyment had during the summer, more families are using the woodland now, especially at the weekends.
“The Kids who took part just loved being out there, even in the pouring rain and when doing things like litter picking, they still loved it. The idea of wildness, to be able to see wild deer have such an appeal”. And there’s is more that the children get right into: They are very interested in trees and bug hunts are always a hit. Also having fires and roasting marsh mallows, it’s often avoided by main stream education and they love doing this because it’s a bit risky.” In fact, lighting fires in a protected and guided environment, with the management or risk and adventure feel it brings, also provides a positive outlet for setting fire and may have the potential to reduce unaccepted and dangerous forms of settign fires.
Urban Roots have had great feedback from teachers who are keen to continue and expand their forest school activities. They have noted how extremely well the activities in the woods fit in with the curriculum. Moreover, children who may not do very well in school, or who are labelled as disruptive, show a completely different behaviour and engagement in the woods, which gives them an opportunity to show how intelligent, creative and productive they actually are.
As for plans for the future: Beehives have arrived and already the preschoolers from the creche have adopted their buzzy friends, so there’s sure to be some bee project or other happening some time soon!