Forest School Camps (FSC) is an educational charity run entirely by volunteers. It aims to provide opportunities for children from all backgrounds to experience living on the land under canvas and to encourage individual resilience and self-reliance. We work to engender a sense of responsibility for each other within a small community close to nature. The organisation now has extensive experience in outdoor activity camps and its expertise in open-air education is widely recognised.
The origins of Forest School Camps go back to the early 20th century when an experimental school was first established in the New Forest and then eventually settled in Whitwell Hall in Norfolk. It was founded with the aim of encouraging a ‘simple but spiritual way of life for children and adults with an emphasis on creative and intellectual interests’ and of creating ‘a child-centred environment where children could take responsibility for their own lives and their own learning.’
The school closed for the duration of the Second World War and never reopened as a school. However, a two week camp at the end of the summer term had always been part of the outdoor curriculum and this camping tradition started again in 1947 under the aegis of former pupils and staff. The traditions and momentum the school had generated passed on to the new camping movement. It grew rapidly and, by 1967, there were 27 camps a year being run all over the country. Forest School Camps continued to develop and expand to the present day remaining true to the founder, Ernest Westlake’s, teaching: the primitive approach, the learning by doing and the respect for life.
FSC’s philosophy has always been an amalgam of compatible ideas drawn from 19th and 20th century experimental educationalists, and from Quakerism, the Woodcraft movement, North American First Nations and other agencies which promoted inclusive, simple living close to nature with a loving concern for individual welfare as well as a deep commitment to democratic ideals.
FSC is still administered and staffed by volunteers, many of whom are former campers who continue to be involved as adults because being part of FSC remains a very important element of their lives. There are now about 30 camps of varying sizes and lengths run between March and October in Wales, Scotland and England taking about 1500 children.
The administration of FSC reflects the same attitudes that are promoted on camps. Decisions are made at Council open to any staff member who wishes to attend through consultation and consensus. A variety of committees divide the day-to-day work of running camps, sorting equipment, enrolling children and staff, finding new camp sites and all the other myriad of jobs which need to be completed in the annual round of getting us into the field.
The approach to education still focuses on learning by doing, encouraging exploration, resourcefulness, teamwork and mutual respect for each other and the environment. Campers learn to live with basic facilities: we cook on wood fires and do not have running water. Mobile phones and the internet are not part of camp life. Although we may be cold, wet and often dirty, campers return year after year for the life-changing experiences and the sheer fun of living with FSC.
Forest School Camps as an organisation has changed over the decades in order to ensure the health and well being of children and staff. We now have to account for the data we hold and there are many written policies where things might have been taken for granted in earlier years. Staff are informed about these policies when they train. Any member of staff who has not camped with FSC for 10 years needs to retrain to make sure they are up to date with these policies.
A First Nation American belief is that we will only be in touch with nature if we ‘sit and sleep on the earth’. This feeling for the wholeness of life on our planet is expressed in some of our rituals and the names we give things at camp. Many of the traditions have developed out of organisational expedience, such as rally (a meeting with everyone sitting in a circle to discuss what is going to happen through the day), the clans and the structure of the day. Other traditions have grown out of the philosophy underlying FSC and some arose out of the sheer pleasure of being FSC and just having fun.
Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
FSC is committed to encouraging equality, diversity and inclusion among our members and eliminating unlawful discrimination in the provision of our services. The aim is for our child and adult campers, staff, trustees, associates and anyone involved in the organisation in any capacity to be inclusive of all sections of society.
We aim to:
- provide equality, fairness and respect for all throughout our organisation.
- not discriminate against groups or individuals based on any of the Equality Act 2010 protected characteristics of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race (including colour, nationality, and ethnic or national origin), religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation, and disadvantaged socio-economic status and to oppose and avoid all forms of discrimination.
Our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Policy is available here. For further information, please email general enquiries at firstname.lastname@example.org
A new collective has been formed to assess the impact FSC has on the environment and to minimise it wherever possible. It aims to use the information to adjust how FSC interacts with the natural environment aiming for a net-zero carbon footprint and a light tread across the land. It is also involved with re-wooding and creating new wildlife habitats to give back to the land it uses. FSC aims to teach children about sustainability and their individual responsibility and to empower them to use their new knowledge in their daily lives.