Visit to Netherhall Special School.

Netherhall is a special school catering for around 120 pupils from age 4 to 19, who have severe/profound/multiple learning difficulties. Over the last 4 years, Jane Hauton, the teacher in charge, has led a project to create an outdoor learning space on a field adjacent to the school.

There are many things going on in different parts of this space, including five tree areas, two wildflower meadows, and many different wildlife habitats. There is a ‘Gruffalo Trail’, with wooden carvings of characters in the story, and an orchard planted with dwarf apple, pear and cherry trees, all of which can be harvested from a wheelchair. Willow domes are a favourite place for pupils to ‘hide’ and be surrounded by the rustle of leaves. A wheelchair-friendly path leads all the way round the site, so that all pupils can access the whole space.

Netherhall’s outdoor learning space was also chosen as a site of one of the ‘Tiny Forests’ donated by Severn Trent, in partnership with Earthwatch Europe. These 72 tennis-court-sized forests, one for each nation/territory that competed in the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022, are intended to increase biodiversity, and the pupils will become ‘citizen scientists’, monitoring the trees for the next five years and providing data to help assess the benefits of the Tiny Forest in their area.

Last year a sensory garden was added to the field. Plants are grown in round beds, built from what Jane called ‘eco-bricks’ – which turned out to be old plastic bottles! This year, the pupils would like to develop the space by adding a willow tunnel to lead from the entrance to the sensory garden towards the outdoor learning building. Willow tunnels are interesting and calming for the pupils, as well as being an additional wildlife habitat. The pupils are planning to add straw/grass nesting boxes to the structure to encourage more wildlife. This is the project that LRGT will be supporting.