Revived from our afternoon tea break Eve and I make our way down the lane to Oakwood; the very special forest school for infants run by my good friends Steve and Sharona Parker. I am delighted Eve has chosen them as her first port of call.
We had underestimated how long it would take us to walk that day, and although it was now not far to Oakwood Denbury, we were quite late. Our hosts rang and offered to come and collect us by car, but it felt like it would be cheating so we walked it to the last.
There were quite a few cars parked outside the wooden cabin when we arrived, but no sign of anyone. We went around to the back and there were lots of vegetable plots and some greenhouses. Taking off our packs we walked across the field towards a small wood and it was there that we discovered to our surprise, a party! On the long wooden table under the woods Steve and Sharona had laid out couscous, cabbage and carrot salad, bean salad, cheese and fruit juice.
“Steph! What have you done to yourself?” Exclaims Sharona. “You look ten years younger!”
The other guests had already eaten and we sank gratefully onto the wooden stools and set about the food. After dinner we are interviewed by Jason Liosatos for his online show Global Peace Radio.
We bed down in a cosy little empty classroom in our sleeping bags and next morning Steve sits us in the herb mandala to tell us of how the eight sided array of raised beds is more than a growing area but also a teaching tool; here children learn about the seasons and the growing cycle, about astronomy, about the different aspects for growing different plants and about themselves.
Oakwood Denbury is a land education center. We wander around the woodland, polytunnel, the circle with the wooden stools, and the many vegetable patches. It would spoil the mystery to describe exactly how they do their education work, but the focus is on inner transformation.
“It’s for people to come here and experience.” said Steve. “With equal weight is emotional literacy and numeracy for children.”
Over lunch Sharona and Steve told us how the school had come into being, despite months of planning difficulties.
“We’re all on a great walk, journey as humans.” Sharona said. “We had over a hundred letters of support for our planning application. I really felt alone before, but now there’s this feeling that we’re in this mass community.” Eve nodded.
“There’s loads of us” I said, “and there’ll be even more.”
“We invited the parish council and the planning officer to have a look around the site. Then highway enforcement came for a look around too and said everything looked good, but then they objected!” said Steve.
Sharona nodded. “We’re putting our heads above the parapet, just by being here. People have been frightened by it, it holds a mirror up to how they live. We had support from Satish Kumar and the Schumacher College which really helped.”