Harrow Weald’s ‘Forest School’ showcased in report
All Saints Church in Harrow Weald has been praised for its work in the local community in a new report by the thinktank ResPublica.
In Holistic Mission: Social action and the Church of England James Noyes and Phillip Blond argue the government must do more to unleash the power of the church and the millions of regular churchgoers if it wants to build the Big Society. All Saints’ work is a key example of the Diocese of London’s Capital Vision 2020 of serving local communities in a way that is ‘confident, compassionate and creative’.
All Saints Church has been recognised for its efforts in using its land and resources for the benefit of the local community. All Saints initiated its own plan for the community – a 27-page report entitled ‘All Saints Serving Harrow’. All Saints began their action in 2009 by opening the church to host an exhibition featuring local artists, encouraging people to recognise the church as a community asset.
One of the ways All Saints has benefitted Harrow has been the development of a ‘forest school’. The idea of the forest school is to make the most of Harrow’s assets, such as the mix of residential housing and green areas like parks and woodland. The Forest School takes advantage of this environment, by introducing children who risk exclusion from ‘inner suburb’ schools to green spaces in the ‘outer suburbs’ and a new range of skills and experiences. The Forest School initiative started in Scandinavia some fifteen years ago.
While the Forest School is not on church land, the church has been central to its development; this work has been recognised by the local authorities and the scheme is run in partnership with Harrow Council. The Forest School ‘classroom’ is in woodland that was previously the vicarage garden of All Saints’ church. All Saints’ has worked with Harrow Council and the John Lyons Foundation to facilitate the project and help young people in Harrow to learn about the natural world and increase their confidence through team work and outdoor adventure. So far over 300 children have benefitted from the Forest School.
The ResPublica report also contains the result of a new survey, which shows that Anglican Churchgoers are in the forefront of the kind of charitable and voluntary work symbolised by the Big Society. It found that eight in 10, (79 per cent) of Anglican churchgoers regularly volunteer compared to less than half (49 per cent) of the general population.
The Revd James Mercer, Vicar of All Saints, said:
"We at All Saints’ are delighted to be part of the innovative Forest Schools project. Working in partnership to enable young people and adults to develop a self esteem and a sense of belonging is what the job is all about."
Phillip Blond, Director of Westminster-based thinktank ResPublica, said:
"All Saints Church exemplifies the merits of the Big Society. The people involved are a shining light in our community and we need more like them."