Jo Rawson, Volunteering and Community Involvement Manager at the National Trust’s Hardwick Hall, tells us about working with schools, decorating Christmas trees and why outdoor learning is about more than school visits…
What made you do what you do?
As a child I remember going to visit Clumber Park, a National Trust place in Nottinghamshire near to where I grew up, with my primary school class. I was already a bit of a wild child; we always went camping on family holidays and I spent much of my childhood outdoors. At Clumber, the ranger took us bird watching and I got to teach my classmates about the birds we were seeing. We also got to watch the Rangers (or Wardens as they were then) fell a tree, and all shouted ‘timber’ as it fell.
After that I was hooked. I knew I wanted to do something to do with the outdoors and help inspire others to love nature as much as I did.
Is outdoor learning important?
Massively so. When they come to Hardwick, children learn about life processes and living things, environmental change and sustainable development. We take them pond dipping in the fish ponds, bug hunting in the park and have a go at bush craft activities; things they probably couldn’t do in their own school playing field.
The biggest opportunity we have to connect children with nature is by giving them the nature bug when they’re here to learn.
This is us thinking about the future. If we don’t connect children with nature now, we’ll have one hell of a job convincing them as adults to care about the places we protect or interest them in becoming members, volunteers and staff.
What are you doing at Hardwick?
We take school groups around the hall and estate. The Elizabethan hall was home to one of the most powerful women in the Tudor era, which offers plenty of opportunities to dress up and dance like Elizabethans. The park and surrounding countryside is teeming with wildlife and a great place to see first-hand the impact of people on the landscape and how we are still living from the land today.
There are also more informal opportunities for schools to come to the estate and run their own activities. Two local schools organise weekly forest schools sessions in the parkland. Recently, teachers from another school got the whole school doing a sponsored walk from school to Hardwick Hall, ticking off 50 things activities as they walked.
Within a seven mile radius of Hardwick Hall live over 380,000 people. We try to do as much work with schools in the local community as possible, but work particularly closely with two local primary schools. The children can visit Hardwick for free, which is great as many of the pupils live within walking distance. The pupils at these two schools helped us design our play trail here and they come every year to decorate their own Christmas tree as part of our community Christmas tree decorating.
One of the barriers to schools coming to Hardwick is the cost of transport. Hiring a coach to take a school class down the road is expensive. So we head into schools sometimes to talk to teachers and pupils about what we do and get them involved in projects and activities to help us or their school. We often go out to school galas with our brightly coloured National Trust branded gazebo and big box of 50 things to do before you’re 11¾ activities.
Is it just about schools?
Schools, obviously, offer an opportunity to talk to lots of children about nature, history, or whatever it might be, all at once. But learning’s about more than schools.
Our Wildlife Watch and Youth Ranger groups provide something more for children living within our local community, who want to learn a bit more about the wildlife and play an active role in managing the landscape we care for. Working with a local scout group, we’ve also just launched a new guide for beaver, cubs, and scout groups on how they might use the estate to get their badges.
Really, though, anyone can learn at Hardwick. There’s so much to discover. I’ve been here for eight years and I’m still learning new things every day.
Discover more on Hardwick Hall’s website.