Answering the call of the wild: Croydon Forest School


By - Friday 4th April, 2014

Who knew this sort of thing went on in Croydon?


Art in nature : beautiful crafts at Croydon Forest School. Photo author’s own.

It will surprise many people to learn that Croydon, celebrated land of concrete alienation, has its own Forest School. This pioneering and inspiring method of working with children and young people has been popular in Scandinavia for decades and arrived in Britain some twenty years ago. It has gained popularity over the last few years and many schools, including a number in Croydon, have adopted elements of its outdoors approach to learning, opening children to their natural curiosity and delight in nature. Who knew?

The school is run by the Croydon Youth Service for children who until recently had to travel miles to access its programmes. Now thanks to a local partnership with the Scouts, there is a Croydon base at Pinewood Scout camp in Shirley.

It’s amazing to watch the joy of children released into the wild

At Forest School, qualified practitioners carefully facilitate programmes which are uniquely tailored to the needs of the individuals within the group and have the fundamental aim of building participants’ self esteem, confidence, independence and creativity. Interestingly, the Forest School name does not refer to an actual place; it refers to the approach and philosophy.

My colleague Katie Rose and I will be providing campfire singing, music making and creating a sound bath. This doesn’t involve rubber ducks – it means wrapping people in wonderful sounds, created by instruments and voices, for up to sixty minutes. The experience is soothing, cleansing and rejuvenating – wonderful in these natural surroundings.

Then there are the simple pleasures of being outdoors, trying new bushcraft activities, singing by the open fire and toasting a marshmallow or two. I usually feel twenty years younger after a day getting muddy and seeing the joy of children released into the wild.

Learning opportunities in the great outdoors. Photo author’s own.

‘I don’t have ADHD when I’m in the woods’. (David, aged 14)

Croydon has a fine range of green spaces and Pinewood has water, open and woody areas, mud and grassland. More and more research into wellbeing suggests we can all benefit from being out in natural surroundings, feeling calmer and at peace, even if the green space is just your local park. Croydon Forest School runs programmes helping children with a variety of needs including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and autism. Its impact on the children attending is unmistakeable, and expressed better than I can by a young Forest School student, 14-year old David: I don’t have ADHD when I’m out in the woods.’

This coming Saturday April 5th there will be a formal launch of the Croydon Forest School and Adventure Centre at Pinewood Scout Camp. It will be an exciting day full of nature-inspired activities for everyone, most of which are free or very low cost.

It’s something different – stimulating and also calming, a day full of nature-inspired activities for everyone. Book in advance and remember – it’s ok to just watch, but you are sure to want to join in soon enough…


To book activities or to find out more about Croydon Forest School programmes, you can contact the woman with the best job title in the borough: Outdoor and Wellbeing Manager (Forest Project and Croydon Adventure) Suzy.Strudwick@croydon.gov.uk 07771 843 064.

Catherine Pestano

Catherine Pestano

Catherine Pestano grew up in Sutton (standing for Labour), went to school in Carshalton, and college in Croydon. She loves Croydon, her vibrant home town of 17 years, where she works as a Nordic walking instructor and co-ordinator of community arts for well-being. She has a nostalgic fondness for her Brownie and Girl Guide Handbooks and all things Scouting-related. Campfire singing a speciality!

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  • Anne Giles

    What a wonderful idea. Sounds like great fun and good for the kids.

  • Sean Creighton

    Brilliant. And adults can enjoy as well. A few years ago I took part in a workshop for community association activists which included looking at leaves, tree spanning, etc. It was an eye opener to all the participants. I was able to promote this kind of approach in the Environmental Action Pack (1996) which I then compiled.for Community Matters. The pack contained sections on why ordinary people are crucial to environmental action; what community organisations can do about environmental issues; do you live in a sustainable community?; encouraging; people to think about environmental issues; looking at the local environment with new eyes; getting to know your neighbourhood; involving children and young people; reacting to local problems; lobbying the council; the relevance of cultural and historical activities; using less gas and electricity; looking after open spaces; the importance of trees and shrubs; re-using and re-cycling waste and shopping; reducing litter and rubbish dumping; using less water and preventing water pollution; gardening; improving road safety and reducing traffic pollution. Good luck with the project.

  • briana

    very instresting