A charity which supports individuals living with lifelong mental health conditions and learning disabilities has partnered up with a local primary school to help transform part of its playing field into a forest school.

Blyth Star Enterprises, which provides living support and day services that replicate real working environments to over 350 people living across Northumberland, has been working with NCEA Thomas Bewick C of E Primary School in Ashington to help bring their vision for a state-of-the-art forest school to life.

Popular across the country as a means of encouraging pupils to learn personal, social and technical skills by engaging with the natural world, in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, forest schools have also become important tools in the promotion of positive mental health and wellbeing through time spent in the great outdoors.

Working alongside staff and pupils to ensure that as many of their ideas were captured in the final design as possible, service users and support staff from Blyth Star Enterprises’ woodwork department set to work building a series of outdoor workstations, wooden benches, mud kitchens complete with secret fairy doors and a fire pit area for the forest school.

In total, the build took four weeks to complete off-site, with the groundwork and installation taking place over four days within the school holidays.

This is the second forest school that Blyth Star Enterprises has created for schools within NCEA Trust, having supported NCEA Warkworth C of E Primary School with the construction of its new forest school site last summer after vandals destroyed the original site during lockdown.

Kevin Alexander, Supervisor at Blyth Star Enterprises’ woodwork department, said:

“We were delighted to be invited by NCEA Trust to create another forest school for one of its primary schools. It’s really beneficial for our service users to work on projects which take them out into the community where they can see the positive impact of their hard work – it’s good for their morale and their own mental health.

“The staff and pupils at Thomas Bewick Primary were an absolute joy to work with and it was brilliant to see the children’s faces when they saw the finished forest school for the first time. We hope that they will enjoy the site for years to come.”

When asked what they thought of the new forest school, pupils at NCEA Thomas Bewick C of E Primary School, commented:

“I think it’s really cool because there is so much new stuff on the field which we can use now. It’s not just an empty area anymore; we will be able to have really interesting lessons using the outdoors,” said Meredith, Year 4.

“It seems like it could be a nice place to relax now! The team have worked really well and we should appreciate it that they’ve given us such a special place to use!” said Logan, Year 4.

“It’s really good because it will be good to use for fun activities. It’s really nice to have a space to learn outside. I am excited to see the onions, beetroot and the carrots grow too!” said Perry, Year 6.

“I think I am most excited about the fire pit where we could safely do some really interesting learning. I think when all of the new trees and wildflowers have grown it’ll look really beautiful. It will be good for the younger children to learn more consistently outside as we’ll be using it every week,” said Amber, Year 6.

Jess Williamson, Headteacher at NCEA Thomas Bewick C of E Primary School, added:

“From the day that pupils start school in our nursery provision, we promote outdoor education as a crucial part of our primary curriculum so that they grow up aware of the natural world around them and the benefits associated with spending time outdoors.

“We are fortunate at Thomas Bewick to have such a big school field, but that was all it was – empty space! The creation of a dedicated forest school area is a real win for the school and we really can’t thank Kevin and the team at Blyth Star Enterprises enough for their hard work in making it all possible.”

For more information about Thomas Bewick C of E Primary School, visit www.thomasbewick.ncea.org.uk or to find out more about Blyth Star Enterprises or commissioning a woodwork or gardening project, visit www.blythstar.org.uk.