Image: Mary Patricia Craig and Kiane Dickson from Holy Family and Currie Primary School meet at the peace wall gate in Alexandra Park, Belfast, to record the girth of a tree during a Forest School programme shared by the two interface schools
Children from schools in an interface area of north Belfast are transforming a peace wall gate with a grant from the Big Lottery Fund.
Holy Family Primary School has been awarded £9,460 through the Awards for All programme to run a shared Forest School programme in nearby Alexandra Park with Currie Primary School. They are one of 82 groups across Northern Ireland who are sharing in a total grants windfall of £701,660.
Forest School trainer Brian Poots said: “When we first came here, and they walked through the peace wall gates, you could see kids from one school looking at the others, apprehensive, thinking ‘what are we doing here? We don’t go here.’ Now it’s becoming a happy meeting place.”
Forest Schools use the natural environment to develop children’s skills and increase well being. Activities include scavenger hunts where the children have to find different colours or textures in the park, and learning about forest plants and animals. The course lasts 12 weeks and at the end of it three teachers will be certified Forest School leaders so they can carry on the work.
“The idea is that the teachers will think of ways to move a lesson outside in the fresh air and sunshine. Children enjoy learning outside and they learn better outside. It is mentally good for them,” Mr Poots said.
Aideen Hickey, a teacher at Holy Family School, said the project had brought the children together: “The kids had thought of it as two parks. They didn’t realise it’s the same park, but just divided by the wall. They were a little nervous at first, but now we’re in lesson four they all know each other and have become friends.
She added: “We are delighted to be part of the Forest Schools project. Holy Family and Currie Primary Schools are committed to a ‘Shared Education’ initiative and this sits perfectly with the ethos of that. Both schools were instrumental in opening the peace wall in 2011 and we believe that our joint working is contributing to community cohesion in the area. The future looks bright for Alexandra Park.”
Dessie Henderson (9) from Holy Family PS said he was already carrying the lessons from the Forest School home, and it has encouraged him and his brother to use the park more outside school too.
“I come to this park to play sometimes and to do litter picking like we do here at the Forest School, but I go to the whole park now,” he said.
Joanne McDowell, Big Lottery Fund NI Director, said: “The Big Lottery Fund’s NI Awards for All programme funds health, education, environment and community projects that help people bring about positive change in their lives, improve health and well-being, develop skills and create safer communities.
“The application process is simple and accessible and shall remain so, making it easy for applicants to successfully apply for small pots of funding that can have such a big impact on local communities and lives.”