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Children’s Countryside Day Marks 10 Ground-Breaking Years

A ground-breaking countryside education initiative is celebrating 10 years of teaching children about farming, food and the environment.

The award-winning annual Glendale Agricultural Society (GAS) Children’s Countryside Day was one of the very first projects of its kind when it launched a decade ago. Since then, more than 15,000 North East schoolchildren aged from five to nine have had a unique opportunity to find out where their food comes from and to discover more about rural life.

Ian Gray of Rickerby’s Agricultural Machinery with children from 2013

Ian Gray of Rickerby’s Agricultural Machinery with children from 2013

This year’s event on June 5 will involve 1,470 children from 40 schools in Northumberland and North Tyneside, with 65 exhibitors and 250 volunteers giving up their time so children can get a glimpse into country life. The Children’s Countryside Day is free of charge to schools and GAS has raised nearly £175,000 from grants and private sponsorship over the last decade to keep it that way. The event employs just one part time member of staff, Ruth Oldfield, to organise the day with a committee and team of dedicated volunteers.

Ruth said: “The Glendale Agricultural Society, which organises the annual August Bank Holiday agricultural show in Wooler, is one of the smallest in the UK – but we’ve always had big ideas.

“The ethos of the countryside day has always been the same: educate children about food and farming in a fun, interactive way, and connect the countryside to the curriculum. We’ve been successful in bringing an awareness of farming into children’s daily lives, many of whom had no idea where their food came from before they attended.

“A lot has changed in 10 years. Farming practices have developed, with diversification now a playing a huge part in many agricultural businesses; severe flooding and winter storms have raised people’s awareness of the environment; and Jamie Oliver’s campaign for healthy school meals has brought the kinds of issues we’ve been teaching children about to a wider audience.

Alnwick Beekeepers Association Stand from 2013

Alnwick Beekeepers Association Stand from 2013

“We intend to keep leading from the front with this valuable and innovative day, which has proved to be a real highlight in the school year.”

In 2013, the Society hosted the biggest event to date with more than 1,750 children from 40 schools and 65 different exhibits. This year, organisers are aiming for another fantastic day.

The Countryside Day, which won the Northumberland National Park Young People’s Mentor Award 2013 and the Bayer FACE Innovative Learning Award 2011, has the theme ‘Fun in the Field’ for 2014. Children are being asked to design an environmentally friendly scarecrow and bring it with them to the showground at Wooler to be judged by TV favourite John Grundy.

This year’s event will feature a dairy tent for the first time, where children can learn about making butter, cheese and ice cream. They’ll also find out how to make bread to spread with their freshly-churned butter, using flour produced by local farmers.

Mrs Claire Vass, Assistant Head Teacher at Alnwick South First School, has been bringing children to the event for a number of years, and is working with this year’s group on the scarecrow design challenge.

She said: “We live in Alnwick and we are rural, however there are children not involved in the farming community, so many think their food comes from Sainsbury’s or Morrisons. The event teaches them how their food is produced and where it comes from.

The Countryside Day is so well organised, there is so much to see and do and children love it. Seeing sheep being sheared is one of the highlights.
“Theme parks and visitor attractions are often the weekend activities for so many families now, and children never get to see the real countryside, so it’s a really important event.”

Her views are echoed by Red Willcox, from Coates Middle School in Ponteland, who describes the Children’s Countryside Day as “one of the more worthwhile visits I have organised in 38 years of teaching in Northumberland”.

Each year has a different theme, so children are able to learn about different aspects of farming, the environment and rural life, from beekeeping to arable farming, red squirrel preservation, butchery, gamekeeping and flood management techniques. More than 60 local organisations and businesses have been involved in the event since the start and many have returned each year, including:

  • Mr. David Thompson (Chillingham Barns) & Mrs Thompson with the North Northumberland Spinners
  • Doddington Dairy
  • Alnwick Beekeepers Association
  • Gordon Rogerson – Stickdressers
  • Rebecca Torrance (Goats)
  • Heatherslaw Mill
  • Rickerbys Agricultural machinery
  • Northumberland National Park
  • Thomas Sherriff
  • National Farmers Union
  • College Valley Hunt
  • Greenvale
  • TH & DW Armstrong
  • Gordon Rogerson
  • Alnorthumbria Vets
  • Bunt Morton

Feedback to the Children’s Countryside Day committee from parents shows what a key part the event plays in the school year. It’s something the children look forward to, and importantly, learn things that stay with them.

Danny Sinton, who attended the very first day with Belford First School, now aged 17, is completing a Catering Course at Newcastle College.

He said: “I have fantastic memories from the Children’s Countryside Day, and for me it really has shaped the person I am today. It was my first hands on experience with food, seeing where the raw product came from, how it was produced and made into the end product. The day really sparked my interest in food and paved the way for the education choices I have made, and for the experiences I have gained.”

Peter Ayres, former Head Teacher of Wooler school, first took a group of children to the event in 2006. Since retiring, he has volunteered as the event’s Child Protection Officer.
He said: “I was totally unprepared for the children’s reaction when we returned to school. They were buzzing with excitement at what they had seen and experienced: being allowed on to a baler the size of a house, riding a bike in order to make a smoothie; taking part in the construction of a dry stone wall, seeing a sheep shearer at work and then being allowed to taste the local ice cream! Back at school I factored these experiences into the requirements of the National Curriculum subjects and was delighted that it gave the children a fresh impetus to learn.”

The Children’s Countryside Day in Numbers

  • 325 visits from schools across Northumberland and North Tyneside in nine years

  • 15,000 children have attended the Children’s Countryside Day since its inception in 2004

  • £174,000 raised from grants and private sponsorship from local trust funds, families and businesses

  • £0 – the amount each school has had to pay to attend the event
    In the last 10 years, the event has mainly been funded by Defra, private trusts and Leader with large single donations from Cheviot Futures, the Environment Agency, the Northumberland National Park’s Sustainable Development Fund and the Community Foundation.

This year, the committee has raised almost £30,000 to fund the ongoing running costs and basic infrastructure of the event, including marquees, toilets, generators, catering, radios, barriers, first aid and insurance.

Ruth said: “None of it would have been possible over the past 10 years without the support of our stewards, who give up their time, to help on the day. In addition I would like to thanks Lilburn Estate who provide the field in which we enjoy the day and livestock on the day itself.”

Countryside day

Related Links
link Thousands of Young Farmers Attend Annual Convention 2014
link Royal Visits Announced for the 2014 Great Yorkshire Show
link Young Farmers Plan the Future at Annual Convention 2014
link Putting Dairy-Produced Beef Under the Spotlight

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