Swap screens for outdoor adventure
9 July 2015
How often do you wish you could tear yourself or your children away from the screens that dominate our lives? We’re constantly attached to our phones, glued to our computers and finding ourselves manipulated by children to give them more screen time. Grove Farm Woodland in Stitchcombe near Marlborough is the antithesis of this modern living. An outdoor adventure playground, that harps back to our childhoods where screens, let alone TV, were barely on the radar.
Originally from Coventry, Simon Keith is a dairy farmer turned youth worker who set-up Grove Farm Woodland in 2011, opening to the public in 2013. It’s been a dream long held and was made possible at a chance meeting with local philanthropist Martin Gibson. Martin bought into the vision and gave Simon a tract of forest on which to develop his dream.
Simon was brought up on a farm and has always loved the outdoors. He has memories of milking cows before he went to school and the peace and quiet of his first farming job on the Isle of Sark, where he learnt more about animals and nature. He recalls with fondness taking boats to Guernsey and Conger Eel fishing – the pleasure of throwing down a line and pulling out a 20ft beast on the end of the hook. Delicious too! This combined with three years of travel has sealed his love of nature. Most of his travels were spent running camel tours in the desert in Egypt but he also spent time in Morocco and China.
It was after travelling that Simon sought change and trained to be a youth worker. And it was while running the extreme sports at a youth club in Westbury that he met Martin, who owns the land and is a trustee of the charity.
Simon now lives in the woods except in the cold winter months, he loves having no commute and being so close to nature. It is this enthusiasm for the outdoors that makes Grove Farm Woodland so special. It’s magical - there are fairy doors in trees, tepees, a stage, kids' play area, birds of prey and lots of logs and trees to clamber on. Currently set in 24 acres he is looking to extend the wood to an area of circa 65 acres. He runs a toddler group on Monday mornings, a session for home schooled children on Tuesdays and re-integration activities for disaffected youths on Wednesday and Thursday. Many of the activities feed into the curriculum – navigation for geography, outdoor art, dance and camp activities. He is also getting involved with the Primary activity scheme – the mini version of the Duke of Edinburgh for 8 to 11 year olds.
A popular venue for birthday parties he’s also keen to start a Saturday kids club. But it’s not just for the kids. Simon is keen to get parents back into nature too and is looking at doing more family days and a dad and kids’ weekend, where you can camp overnight and completely escape the doldrums of commuting. It’s mostly to just enjoy nature but he’s planning drumming & art sessions, entertainment and a bbq.
Holiday club is from 27th July onwards on Monday to Friday. 4-6 year olds will be doing forest school - identifying plants and fauna, building camps and playing in the outdoors. The older children will do bush craft, play nature awareness games and green woodworking. There’s lunch provided, marshmallow toasting and bread baking on the fire.
Depending on the time of year ingredients from the wood make their way onto the menu. From spring to June Simon can be found using nettles in soup, potato cakes and tea and in autumn there’s even more that can be used.
And there are lots of plans afoot – from building more bridges and tree houses to having more music events and a theatre night. In the autumn he’s adding a classroom and kitchen and extending the woods. So what are you waiting for – throw away technology and go and embrace nature…