Mallydams Hastings Wild Things project update
On Monday 25th January 2016, 12 people from 10 organisations across Hastings
came together with staff from the RSPCA to discuss the first year of the Big Lottery Funded Hastings Wild Things Project.
Independent evaluators, Icarus Collective, facilitated the focus group and here are some of the main points made during discussions.
What’s working well?
Mallydams woods is a safe haven for children to explore and enjoy.
The manager of Ore Church Mice pre-school, spoke about why they regularly bring young children to Mallydams :
“We are passionate about bringing children into the community and so we take them to the woods near to us, but when we come here we don’t have to worry about broken glass on the floor. We don’t have to worry about old rusty barbed wires. This is a haven because we know the children will be completely safe but at the same time there is an amount of freedom that we possibly can’t give them in other open spaces.”
A targeted approach: working with a group of parents from the same estate/area: Ore Church Mice pre-school commented on the benefits of working with families from the same area because it helps to build friendships between people:
“These parents may have known each other to begin with but they didn’t speak to each other…By the end of it they really gelled as a group. We know they go round to each other’s house for tea. They really built up a bond by coming here and by the end they were saying to us ‘what are we going to do on a Monday afternoon now?”
Residentials: East Sussex Targeted Youth Support have brought young people that are transitioning between school and college to Mallydams for weekends.
“We find that it’s a very good way of team building. It can be challenging for young people but they really grow through the experience. They gel with each other and with the staff and they can let their guard down, get muddy, make fires and do things they wouldn’t normally do. It allows teenagers to be children. We follow up the young people to see if they are still at college and we think their experience at Mallydams really helps. They may not be on the same course together at college but they do know someone else there at this can make a big difference.”
The Director of the Eggtooth project also spoke about the benefits of residentials:
“For us the residential offer is amazing, to be here in a room with their child for 24 hours – they talk about it for years afterwards and it’s so simple – they have a BBQ, they go for a night walk, they snuggle up on bean bags and watch a film. It’s such a lovely feeling…It’s been an incredibly positive experience to bring families to this beautiful place. You can see there is quite a lot of anxiety before people come here but then you can see the relaxation in them and their children.”
Enabling young people and children to have fun together: This was a consistent theme throughout the discussion. The Young Carers Support Officer from East Sussex Young Carers spoke very positively about her experience of bringing 8-11 year olds to Mallydams:
“It gives them a chance to be children and have a bit of fun and a little bit of respite. They just loved it.”
They now have made plans to bring young carers aged 11-18, to Mallydams and are looking forward to giving them an opportunity to have fun and build friendships with each other.
Building a trusting relationship with parents over a series of visits: Mallydams Family Engagement Officer reflected on how important it is to help parents to feel comfortable so that over time they gain the confidence to get more involved in the activities:
“It’s important that we don’t pressure them into doing things early on when they are outside of their comfort zone. They need to feel safe and we need to build the trust with them and then over time we see their confidence does grow.”
This was endorsed by others in the group: “A lot of parents have big issues about getting muddy or kids getting muddy. S can have conversations with them and you can see the families relaxing.”
Capturing memories in a photo album that families can keep: Families that visit Mallydams with their children are given a photo album at the end to take away. The staff have noticed that this is a talking point for parents and children – they look at the photos together and talk about their experiences:
“The book sounds like such a simple thing but it’s actually a very bonding opportunity: it captures the special moments between parents and their children when they have done things together.” (Mallydams Community Engagement Manager)
Accreditation: AQAs are awarded to the primary school children as part of the youth intervention programme and the young people from the YOT. It’s a versatile accreditation that can be tailored to children as young as eight.
“It’s a tangible reminder of their experience and gives them a sense of achievement. They are presented with them at a special assembly in school. In the Assembly the children show photographs and show the bird boxes that they made and talk about what they have achieved and their favourite bit of learning – it was a very positive experience.” (Headteacher of local school).
Similarly for young people linked to the YOT the benefits of accreditation were highlighted:
“It gives them a sense of achievement and at the same time there isn’t a pressure to achieve straight away. They can be very scared of failure so it’s good to give them an opportunity to try and then fail, then try again and ultimately to succeed.”
o Their ability to put parents at ease
o Their ability to be flexible and responsive to children’s interests
o The process of planning/setting up: Communicating in advance is excellent
o Their offer of a warm welcome to all young people and families
What’s changed for families, children and young people?
Introducing families to green spaces in the community:
The project manager of Better Braybrooke Pocket Park spoke about their positive experience of working with HWT in their local volunteer-run park. More people have had opportunities to enjoy what the park can offer and make use of the resources and equipment on site. Some families, who previously didn’t know the park was there, are now returning on their own.
Building relationships between services and families (which have longer term benefits). The manager of Ore Church Mice pre-school talked about how their involvement with HWT has helped to build trusting relationships between their staff and families:
“For us, the community and the relationships are key. When we came up here, it was the first time we had done anything with the parents outside of our setting, but it’s provided catalyst for other things. Now we’ve got the cooking group and parents would never have entertained the idea of coming to the cooking group until they came here. We would like to think that the more we develop these relationships in the pre-schools years the more they might carry that on when the children go to school.”
Speech and Language skills: Ore Church Mice pre-school reflected,
“We come across a lot of children with very little language but just coming here with their parents broadens their vocabulary. In order to develop speech and language you’ve got to have something to talk about. When families come here and go to the beach and things then it broadens their range of things they can talk about.”
Build positive early relationships with the police: The Neighbourhood Policing Team Officer from Sussex Police, who attends with a group of primary school children every 2 hours on alternative weeks, spoke about the benefits of early intervention:
“We can go into schools and say ‘don’t do this’ but there is an argument that it’s probably too late and they may not listen to us anyway. The children that we spend time with at Mallydams are very young and identified as at risk of antisocial behaviour or social exclusion. Here we can build relationships with children before they get any pre-conceived ideas about us. There is a human aspect – they don’t see us ‘at work’ – they see us on neutral territory and that helps.”
Contributing to confidence/ resilience /emotional well-being : A Head teacher at local primary school reflected on their experience of working with HWT:
“We have been absolutely thrilled to be part of this and we are so grateful to Mallydams for inviting us to be involved. We’re very lucky that eight of our pupils can go to Mallydams and really grow. They thoroughly enjoy it and their skills have really developed. We’ve seen the difference back in school. They’ve got fantastic relationships now. They are going through all sorts of different problems and some had gone quite inwards but we’ve seen them open up and feel more confident about approaching people or just offer a smile and say ‘things are okay’.”
There were a number of references to children gaining interpersonal skills, such as negotiation skills, by getting involved in activities: “When you’re here it happens naturally through doing things rather than sitting in a group and talking about it.”
Benefits for emotional well-being were also noted. It was noted that a lot of the referrals to East Sussex Targeted Youth Support are around emotional wellbeing:
“Young people tend to spend more time inside on xbox or social media – they get social interaction via a keyboard rather than face to face. Just being here can help them to feel healthier”.
Reparation: The Youth Offending Team has used Mallydams for reparation. The manager reflected that reparation can be associated with high drop out rates yet it’s their experience that young people are less likely to drop out if they do their community service at Mallydams:
“It’s such a nice venue and the staff always make the young people feel welcome and look after them well and they get a sense of achievement from doing something positive. This can translate to savings because taking young people back to court is very, very expensive. If they don’t turn up the police have to get involved. So the potential to engage young people here has a number of knock-on benefits.”
Attitudes to learning: One example was given from a school of a child who, because they met staff at Mallydams, has a new career goal and commitment to focus on their school work to make this happen. Teachers have fed back to the police that they have seen the attitudes of children change so that they are now more attentive.
The Hastings Wild Things project works with education and community based child and youth organisations in the Hastings area. To find out more information please email the Community Engagement manager, Anna Herrieven: firstname.lastname@example.org
A lottery grant has come to the rescue of one of our pioneering projects, which had been under serious threat.
The Hastings Wild Things scheme has been running since 2010. It uses wildlife and nature to help disadvantaged young people and families gain new skills and confidence and engage with animal welfare issues.
It launched with the help of a three year lottery grant and offered children, teens and young parents the chance to experience the great outdoors through a range of activities at the 56 acre-woodland at our Mallydams Woods Centre in Hastings.
Despite being an instant hit with children, teens and young parents, the project struggled financially after this initial funding ran out and there were fears it would not be able to continue.
Five years of funding
Now the scheme has been awarded a £470,000 grant from the Big Lottery Fund for five years.
Bel Deering, manager of Mallydams Wood, said:
“We’re absolutely over the moon with this news.
“The response to the project has been incredibly positive from the start. I have seen with my own eyes the difference it has made to so many young people and families in the area – it has really transformed lives.
“It has been the first time many of the children had seen wildlife and woods – so many people get little chance to get close to nature these days. It’s also an opportunity for us to encourage a respect for wildlife and nature among younger generations.
“It’s been touch and go financially though, and there have been times when we just didn’t think we would be able to continue. The fact that we now have five years funding makes such a difference to what we can do.”
Allow the project to expand
Hastings is ranked by the government as being in the 10 per cent most deprived local authority areas in the country.
Many young people and families who take part in this scheme face personal and social challenges, and the scheme hopes to inspire them through the natural world and boost their self-esteem through practical outdoor activities and education.
The money will pay for two new posts, a community engagement manager and a family engagement officer. It will also allow the project to expand and work with more young people and families, teaching them to enjoy and respect wildlife.
The project has won several awards including the Senior Section Play Achievement Award at the SPARK awards last week, on Wednesday, 12 November. This award was given for their work creating natural play opportunities for families and children to engage with both nature and animal welfare.