The year is 2010 and there is a Local Authority Officer with a vision; a vision to provide access to free Forest School provision to as many children across Sandwell as possible.

Not that big a deal you might think but at that time there were only two newly qualified officers at the local authority myself and the lady with the vision, Sam Harman. SFSI was formed and had its first two members.

Over the next 11 years Sam and I advocated for and promoted the significant benefits that Forest School can provide for children in both primary and secondary schools to anyone who would listen or stand still long enough.

Quickly schools understood these benefits and wanted to be part of this exciting movement to provide their children with the opportunity to experience Forest Schools for the first time in Sandwell and unlike other areas our focus was on key stage one and above as we believed that older children would reap the benefits of an outdoor curriculum to support their wellbeing. Working in partnership with our training provider we trained over 60 school practitioners from 48 schools, 38 practitioners from voluntary community settings and set up 26 forest school sites in schools across Sandwell, whilst developing a number of forest school sites in our parks and green spaces. Alongside training our own play development officers and were able to recruit two part time practitioners to our team.

We also formed a community of practice network that provided support, guidance, training, workshops and specialist speakers. It was a place where these newly trained Forest School Leaders could meet and discuss the victories and challenges they faced with other like-minded people in a woodland setting on a quarterly basis. Yep we were busy!

Since then we have worked with early years providers, primary schools, special schools, community schools and the local community to name a few with all ages of children and young people, from many different backgrounds. We have always held in high regard our relationships with community settings as this enables us to offer high quality holiday forest school provision around the borough. Our relationship with Warley Woods Community Trust has always been special as they were among the first to see the value of what we were trying to achieve for our communities; despite the wind, rain hail, snow and mud.

We have delivered holiday forest school provision from Warley Woods for 10 years, seeing children graduate from the younger group to the older group and leaving altogether has been a privilege and we have all laughed together, learnt together, had fun together and explored together. The consequences of the pandemic have impacted on our ability to deliver any face to face Forest play at Warley Woods in the past year; that coupled with some of the Go Play team pursuing other dreams means we have naturally become a much smaller team.

During this time another organisation who share our passion for getting outdoors and playing in the woods has emerged and are currently working with Warley Woods Community Trust to provide Forest School Provision to the community; Wild Lives Forest Play is an organisation established by local parents and provides a sustainable model for the future years of Forest Play in Warley Woods. So, it seems an appropriate time to hand over the baton to build on the legacy that the local authority started 11 years ago. Special thanks go to Viv Cole and members of Warley Woods Community Trust and anyone who has worked with us past and present (you know who you are) for helping us to create something wonderful.

Future enquiries for Forest Play at Warley Woods should be directed to Wild Lives Forest Play in the first instance. We will not be withdrawing completely as we still be offering specialist advice and services to schools and organisations we continue to work with in the coming months.

It’s been a blast…………….so long but not farewell!

Tracey Jobber and Sam Harman Sandwell MBC