From Babe to bats – learning in nature’s classroom

06 MAY 2020

Some 43 years ago, Michael Morpurgo founded the charity, Farms for City Children, so that urban children had the chance to broaden their horizons and make lifelong memories. Allchurches Trust is helping ensure that the project can continue, by funding the re-roofing of a picturesque farmhouse on the River Severn.

“You could learn most what was worth knowing from keeping your eyes and ears peeled” – Farm Boy, Michael Morpurgo
 
Wick Court is a Grade II listed manor house, nestled in the Gloucestershire countryside. As well as being a haven for bats, the house provides a base for 1,000 children a year, who spend a week on the surrounding farm, opening their eyes to new experiences and learning in nature’s classroom. Almost all of the schools visiting the farm are from densely populated urban areas, where a pig is most likely seen in the pages of ‘Babe, The Sheep-Pig’! Among the visitors, 75% live in disadvantaged areas and 60% are eligible for free school meals. The farm is a world away from their daily lives and gives the children an opportunity to sow the seeds of confidence, water their self-esteem and grow their independence.
 
The manor house’s traditional roof has seen a lot of wear and tear over its 800-year history - and the clay titles were in need of renovation to ensure the roof was waterproof and safe for visitors. This was no mean feat, as not only is Wick Court’s roof an elaborate series of roof slopes, it is the cosy home for five species of resident bats!
 
With the help of £3,000 grant funding from Allchurches Trust and under a special National England License, Farms for City Children started work on re-laying the roof, in its entirety, in autumn 2019 – avoiding the fluffy residents’ mating season and only once the bats had taken their holiday. Removing the roof was a ‘heart-in the-mouth’ moment as the charity wasn’t sure what to expect underneath. However, worries were quickly allayed as it was soon clear that much of the structure remained in very good condition.
 
Tracy Izod, Trusts Fundraiser for Farms for City Children, said: “Having the opportunity to get close to some rarely uncovered architectural features was a real joy. The final outcome of this project is fantastic. Not only does the roof look wonderful and in keeping with the period property, the ‘Bat-Cams’ we set up in the attic for the children to study them have shown us that all the bats have returned and settled in nicely to their re-vamped home!”
 
A new bat-chelor pad is just the start of the impact a new roof will have on the Gloucestershire farm. The manor house has been restored to its former glory and will be a safe place to stay for the many children who become farmers for a week. The storybook roots of this project are magical and lots of young people will benefit from the fresh air and a farm experience.
 
Chloe Ewen, Grants Officer for Allchurches Trust, said: “We’re delighted to support this project, which has the ability to connect inner city children with nature, helping them to learn in a practical way and experience the wonder of the countryside. Farms for City Children achieve positive educational outcomes and encourage children to embrace the outdoors. We can’t wait to visit the finished project when lockdown is over and take in the beauty for ourselves!”
Farms for city children
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