- Cathy and Stuart Fieldhouse launch a fresh approach to special needs education in the area
- Weekly sessions are based at the Incredible Edible Heaton Park community garden and orchard, introducing children to the great outdoors while helping with social care issues
With 15 years experience in special needs education, Stuart Fieldhouse has long believed in the power of nature to help in children’s growth. In February 2020, Stuart and his wife Cathy launched Outside Education, providing a fun, outside-the-box learning experience with many sessions taking place in Heaton Park, through their partnership with Incredible Edible Heaton Park orchard and gardens.
Prior to lockdown, the team were running 4 hands-on science sessions per week at the community garden, which will all be restarting in September. Through the great outdoors, the program provides resources and support for children outside the UK school system, whether home educated by choice or because schools have been unable to meet their needs.
Here, ARK chats to Stuart and Cathy about what Outside Education is doing for the community, and what Prestwich means to them.
Tell us a little bit about Outside Education and what goes on?
Outside Education Ltd is a new community-focused education business. We have a bespoke garden programme for schools to enhance their alternative provision and SEND (special educational needs and disability) support. We run science sessions for the home education community in the community garden at Heaton Park and will have other subjects available soon both at our new community hub and in the park. We believe in inclusion and education for all.
And why Prestwich?
Prestwich is a multi-cultural, diverse area with a strong sense of family. We are not Mancunians or from Bury. We are a village in our own right and stand together as a community. There are excellent schools, great cafes and bars, parks and playgrounds. Prestwich people support each other, as has been proven time and again since the covid-19 crisis began. We have our differences and disagreements like any family, but are always there for each other when it matters.
How can people get involved and help out?
We have a number of new services coming soon at the community hub, including PECS training, support with DLA applications, mental health support groups and workshops for job seekers. Some of these services will be chargeable, but many will be provided by volunteers.
What do you think Outside Education does for the local community?
Through activities at the new community hub we hope to be able to ease the loneliness and fears that many people feel now and to support families with SEND issues so they know they are not struggling alone. It is appalling how much of a fight it is to get support for your child, how much blame is pushed back onto the families and carers.
Who can get involved?
Anyone with a good idea for a community group will be able to hire one of our rooms and run their own support sessions. We welcome volunteers with an interest in SEND and education to come along and work with our session coordinators to deliver a fun, outside-the-box learning experience.
What’s so special about Heaton Park as a place?
Heaton Park is a perfect location for learning. It has fields and forests, animals and gardens, lakes and the trams. In a short walk round the park you can engage children’s interests in history, biology, engineering, nature, poetry and art. The many hills and forest areas are great for cross-country PE sessions. The community garden provides a base for hands-on science experimentation and an opportunity to get elbows deep in mud and seedlings.
Why is being outside so important in modern times?
Adults and children alike spend far too much time sitting indoors behind electronic screens, whether for work or schooling or entertainment. We are losing our attachment to nature and the planet that nurtures us. At Outside Education Ltd we believe in a different approach. We believe in the importance of kinaesthetic learning, of movement, of interacting with our environment.
And what about people’s mental health?
Gardening is definitely good for our mental wellbeing. The manual tasks enable mindfulness and stress relief. It is frustrating when things go wrong but there is a real joy in seeing your plants grow and bloom. Human senses need to see the sky, hear the birds, smell the flowers, feel the soil and taste the fresh home-grown fruit and vegetables.
How have things changed for you since the COVID outbreak?
Prior to lockdown we were running 4 science sessions per week at the Incredible Edible Heaton Park community garden and had started discussions with various schools about our horticulture programme. We have made the most of the interruption due to the outbreak by talking to the communities that we work with and jumping ahead in our plans. We had not intended to take on premises until we had been operational for at least 1 year, however we will be opening our community hub and training centre on Windsor Road, Prestwich this September. There is a need and we will meet it!
Are you interested in getting involved? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you’d like to find out about other ways to get involved with Incredible Edible Heaton Park, read our post on it here.