Home Outdoor education Covid grant helps outdoor education center cope with growing demand

Covid grant helps outdoor education center cope with growing demand

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A CHARITY offering young people a second chance at education will be able to create additional space at its base to meet growing demand thanks to a grant from the coronavirus fund.

Wiltshire Equine Assisted Learning, which helps children and youth between the ages of six and 18 struggling with autism, ADHD, mental health issues or anxiety, received £ 5,000 from the coronavirus from the Wiltshire Community Foundation.

The charity says the grant will help it rent and renovate barns at its base at Stagwood Stables near Holt so its users have more room to learn after the number tripled in three years.

The ten-year-old charity uses outdoor learning and working with animals to engage young people who struggle to cope in class and are often permanently excluded or refuse to go to school.

“What we are doing is trying to change their mindset about education, that it shouldn’t be hard for them, that there are different ways of being educated and that there are different skills, ”said CEO Heather Watson, who founded the charity.

“If you are not the type who finds it easy to sit in a classroom, because you are overwhelmed by noise and other people, then if you are outside with animals or in a quieter environment, you will learn much better. “

A spokesperson for the association explains: “Young people from all over the county are referred to the association by schools, health workers and social services. The 90 children and young people he works with each week include those who have experienced emotional trauma and young caregivers. Demand is so high that the charity has a waiting list of up to 20 people at a time. Three years ago it only had three employees, now it has nine and is looking to hire two more. “

Heather Watson added, “The demand has tripled because there are a lot of kids who need this extra help. By the time the parents come to us, they are in despair because they have been through an entire school system and their children are either permanently excluded or they refuse to go and are in a terrible state.

“A lot of parents have had to give up their jobs, which has a financial impact, and for them it’s a huge relief to be able to get them to a place where they won’t get a phone call to come and pick them up and get reports from us on the positives we see in their children rather than all the negatives. ”

The charity says the centre’s approach is to give its young users the time and space to understand and express their emotions and develop coping strategies to reduce anger or anxiety. They work one-on-one with one of the staff for up to a full day, three days a week. The bond of trust that is established between them allows the staff member to develop a program to either inspire them to return to mainstream education or to complete their studies there.

“We do a lot of this by working with animals, especially ponies, which are quite intuitive,” Heather said. “The impact of their actions on the ponies is quite easy to see. If they approach a pony and they are angry, it will simply walk away.

“Our job is to help them think about that reaction, why did she react that way and what it was about the way they went to the pony. Could they change something about what they did get a different reaction? It’s experiential learning to give them a chance to think about how they communicate with their peers, and then we can apply that to their own situation so they can see how their behavior affects others.

Young people help care for the centre’s five ponies, four alpacas and seven guinea pigs and participate in outdoor learning, crafts, carpentry and horticulture activities.

“Some have professional qualifications in equine care, horticulture, math and English up to GCSE level, functional skills, retention, CV writing and employability,” Heather said.

“For many of them, we are their education, especially those over the age of 16 who failed to get the GCSE. They will leave us with exams and professional qualifications under their belt. We set them up for a job after they left us.

“Renting the new barns will mean more space for independent study space and teaching areas. We’re just starting to renovate the extra space now and knowing we have the grant to help us is wonderful. It will be fantastic on the horrible winter days knowing that we have this space under cover, it will be a godsend.

Although she takes a step back from teaching these days to focus on administration, Heather said she still has the same enthusiasm for helping young people reach their potential. “I’m just thrilled to see really happy kids and youth somewhere and feel accepted, that they can be successful, make friends and are worth it,” she said. “It’s joy for me.”

Wiltshire Community Foundation Joint Managing Director Fiona Oliver said: “We can only help amazing groups like Wiltshire Equine Assisted Learning because of the generosity of donors who have helped us distribute 1.5 million books. sterling from the Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund.

“As Heather said, the demand is always high for her group’s services and so is the hundreds of groups that we are helping with this and our other funds, so we still need help. to continue to meet this need. “

Find out more about Wiltshire Horse Assisted Learning at wiltshireequineassistedlearning.co.uk and the work of the Community Foundation at wiltshirecf.org.uk.