We were away at Lockerbrook Farm for a whole week with 22 children from Dunkirk School in Nottingham (in a very inner city setting) and Rastaala School in Espoo, Finland (close to Helsinki but surrounded by Finnish forests, lakes and the sea). The project - a joint 2 year initiative between Dunkirk and Rastaala - is funded by European Union Erasmus + funding and is deepening a strong relationship between the two schools (which was established during the Comenius funded project that ended a few months ago). I was part of the first team to spend time at Rastaala back in February 2013 and that study visit forged some wonderful partnerships which have grown and grown since then. Staff and pupils have been travelling between both schools and it feels that there are deep bonds between us - which leads to a brilliant working relationship and something I value very much.
Our week at Lockerbrook deepened our working partnership in such immense ways and we are full of ideas as the project moves forward. The week was intense and demanded a lot of everyone - adults and children. We had devised a packed creative programme using drama, yoga, making, composition, song and outdoor work with a forest school ethos that would explore our project themes of connecting communities through exploring the landscape and a wonderful story "The Music of the Maple" by Tahmina Anam. The team of adults was brought together so that we could all lead different aspects of the week but equally because we would all pool our ideas, resources, energies and because we all relish working in a team in this way.
Lockerbrook isn't really very far from where I live, its in the north part of Derbyshire - the Dark Peak area, high on the hilltops above Ladybower Reservoir, but it still feels a world away for me - and so for our children this setting was transformative, stunningly unexpected ("I never knew somewhere like this existed in this country") breath-taking and inspirational.
We explored the story in many ways and a film is being created which will be a collection of the children's work both inside and outside. Parmjit Sagoo led drama and yoga sessions daily to explore the story, I led various sessions where we made books, clay characters in the trees, wrote notes and gathered ideas - and this took place both inside and outside.
Myself and Lisa Hayes (one of the Dunkirk teachers working on the project) are both forest school leaders and it was an amazing setting to put that ethos into practice. I think my fire bowl and popcorn maker has never had a better view! And it was wonderful to be able to know we could build in things like making a fire and cooking when it felt right - and those things could happen alongside other things. Lockerbrook proved a perfect setting to enable all of these things to flow together.
I really value the ethos and atmosphere brought into the mix by the Finns, they bring a true sense of calm contemplation mixed with a gently quirky mischievousness... Their gentle, quiet, deeply thoughtful contemplation and quirkiness is incredibly creative, nurturing and soothing to be around. This showed itself in so many ways and I think it brought a sense of quiet calmness to some of the Nottingham children who desperately needed that - and much better for it to come gently by spending time with other children. The Finnish staff had so many wonderful things they brought to the project and music was a key part of this. There were songs often and one of the gorgeous touches was that they had brought a story and lullaby to share each night - and they sang the children to sleep. Our Nottingham group are quite an inner city bunch of 10 and 11 year olds and I think this hugely benefitted them, they weren't quite sure what to make of the lullaby at first but by the last night were so eagerly awaiting it! And a lasting memory for me was the suggestion by one particular child that to wave goodbye we should all sing a round the Finns had taught us as they left Lockerbrook on their mini-bus. So we stood on the hilltop singing and waving and crying as we bid goodbye to our friends...
The landscape around Lockerbrook is stunning and there are so many things to be explored and the land is full of very obvious layers of history - from rock formations formed thousands of years ago, to ancient woodland, to evidence of farming in much older times, to the formation of the Reservoirs and Dams and a more industrialised time - as well as evidence of present-day activities such as tourism.
We explored the landscape around Lockerbrook in many ways - through a series of walks but also through ensuring that in every single thing we did we took in our surroundings and the view (you couldn't ignore the view, it was there all around from inside and outside the centre). The landscape was full of stories (as any landscape is) and there were tantalising snippets of tales and anecdotes all around us. The children were fascinated by the idea of the villages under the reservoir ("how could they do that?"), they were intrigued by the sheep, the steep hills, the unusual rock formations and the vast expanses of moorland.
I believe strongly that to really engage with a landscape you HAVE to experience it in all weathers, you have to spend lengthy time outside, you have to move through the landscape in different ways and access parts of it that are maybe a bit harder to reach and you peel away layers by contemplating, exploring, taking quiet time to notice and look... We tried to make sure that throughout the week there was a lot of time for all of us to slow down (even on longer walks) and really engage with the land around us.
We also managed to ensure we were outside in all weathers - which is crucial to the philosophy of both schools, but does mean you need the right clothing - and Lockerbrook has a brilliant collection of all-weather gear you can borrow. Whilst we were there we seemed to have all four seasons all in the space of about 20 minutes (on several days). Whilst walking to Alport Castles we had hail, thick fluffy snow, bright sunshine and rain... We awoke to an amazing covering of snow on Thursday morning which enabled several snowmen to be built before breakfast... but by 3pm it had been washed away by rain and then bright sun came out...
We return to Finland next February for the next residential stage of the project and I can't wait to share further creative adventures with everyone involved...
Lots more information can be found on the Dunkirk website here and also on the Small Actions, Big Change website here.