Education and Learning Award 2023

Congratulations go to gold winners, Stomping Grounds Forest School, Gateshead, and to our silver winners, on-line specialists Canopy Learning.

By Wendy Necar · October 26, 2023

The RFS Education and Learning Excellence Award recognises those who increase awareness, understanding and skills related to the environment, particularly forestry.

1 Stomping Grounds Forest School, Chopwell, Gateshead, a North East Community Interest Company (CIC)

Pictures: Credit Stomping Grounds

“What really stood out was the wide range of backgrounds that the staff and volunteers came from, many of them being able to apply and demonstrate empathy with those they engage with. There was a really strong feeling that young people from kindergarten through to age 20 are supported and nurtured. This helps them become more confident, resilient and, for the older individuals, understand that there are job opportunities out there for them.” Judges

Key points

  • Community Interest Company set up in 2017 to connect communities to woodlands and outdoor spaces
  • Full member of the Forest School Association (FSA)
  • Works to engage those with the least access and connect them to woodland and wild places.

“A woodland is a self sustaining eco system, full of symbiotic partnerships. Our holistic approach mirrors this – and supports humans to become a positive part of the eco system.

“We are thrilled to have been recognised for this award. It validates our journey – that growth and development don’t have to be at the expense of people and planet. It shows that a holistic approach to young people and woodlands can be powerful, impactful and sustainable. We hope other community organisations can learn from our story.”  Sophie Watkinson Executive Director, Stomping Grounds

Pictured: From left, John Kirkby (PEFC, Sponsor), Nikki Garrod-Bush, Emma Andrews and Sophie Watkinson from Stomping Grounds, Sarah Wood (Judge) and RFS President, Ben Herbert. Forestry Journal also sponsored this category

Stomping Grounds began by working with children and schools offering traditional forest school activities. It has expanded to work with a wider number of beneficiary groups. This incorporates working with historically ethnically excluded families in the west end of Newcastle, underserved young people in North Shields and young people eligible for free school meals in three local authority areas (Northumberland, Newcastle and Durham)

Stomping Grounds uses a semi ancient woodland near Prudhoe called Dukes Hagg which is managed for educational, social and environmental purposes, involving young people and local communities.

A young leader program gives individuals the confidence and skills to lead and volunteer. In 2023 a young leader was employed full time as forest coordinator with support from the Rank Foundation, time to shine program. Eve, who is autistic is currently making a path for others to follow.

A kindergarten has been developed in partnership with the National Trust at Gibside – winners of our Community Woodland of the Year Award.

2 Canopy Learning, Cumbria Woodlands

Pictures: Credit Cumbria Woodlands 

“This programme must be highly commended for its innovation. The industry is struggling to recruit and train. Being able to access free online training for beginners and for those wishing to either make a career change or enhance their current skills is an incentive for progression into forestry related occupations. The added bonus is that learners can work at their own pace,

“This application stood out as its approach has enabled more people to engage with some high-quality on-line training.” Judges

Key points

  • Free on-line courses including Ancient Woodland Restoration (CPD); Ancient Woodland Restoration (Higher Education) and Ground preparation for Woodland Creation
  • More than 2000 registered users in 2022
  • Training has connected with students, allied professionals, forestry professional, owners and lay interested members of the public.

“It has been a joy to develop Canopy Learning. To be in a position to provide high-quality courses for free means we’ve seen a huge uptake from folk from both the professional forestry and allied sectors, and from small and new woodland owners nationally.

“Feedback from learners has been particularly great, especially when we hear success stories from small woodland owners who now feel empowered to carry out management they wouldn’t have otherwise.

“We have two new courses in the pipeline including Forest Management Planning and the new UK Forestry Standard, which we hope will continue the trend to bring more woodlands into high quality management, ” Carrie Hedges, Training and Development Lead.

Pictured: From left: John Kirkby (PEFC, Sponsor), Anne-Marie Frankland and Carrie Hedges from Canopy Learning, RFS President, Ben Herbert and Sarah Wood (Judge). Forestry Journal also sponsored this category

Cumbria Woodlands has partnered with other organisations to create Canopy Learning, a suite of training courses that are current, relevant, and accessible. They are a mix of courses for Continuous Professional Development and Higher Education modules.

As Canopy Learning grows, more courses will be offered with a mix of free and charged for modules.

The programme has also developed specific case studies for full time students to visit near-by woodlands. This brings on-line training and formal studies to life in a real setting.

Working with the Woodland Trust, for instance, Canopy Learning had developed an Ancient Woodland Restoration course aimed at both professionals looking to increase their knowledge and also for those in higher education settings.

Thanks to our Sponsors