To the woods! To the woods! Outdoor teaching facilities at local school improved by team of enthusiastic volunteers.

Soft fruit area before diggingSensory PathStaff and students from the Department of Infection and Immunity recently spent a day at the Rowan School in Dore, Sheffield, doing voluntary work organised by the University’s Volunteering Service. Rowan School is a special school for pupils aged 4-11 years old, who have complex speech and language difficulties and/or autistic spectrum disorders. Many pupils have special educational needs in areas such as motor skills, sensory difficulties, emotional and behavioural difficulties, and the development of social and communication skills.

Woodland path during constructionUnder the supervision of a park ranger, the team of 17 volunteers split into two groups. One group spent the day removing debris and old dead plants to create five new beds for soft fruit planting, cleared out the polytunnel, replanted some tomatoes and soft fruit bushes and re-edged the paths surrounding this area.

Fence and seating areaThe second group was put to work clearing an overgrown woodland area, removing brambles, nettles and any branches which could be a hazard, and reinstated a sensory path for the children to use following a rope handrail wound round the trees at the edge of the wood.

Woodland path finishedThe main task of this group though was to create a bark chipping footpath which snaked through the woods by first hammering stakes into the ground and fixing batons to these to edge the path. The entire area was then filled with bark chippings, barrowed in from the top of a very steep slope. The fitter members of the team were having races with one another and seeing who could fill their barrows the most. A willow type fence to act as a wind break was also constructed in a seating area of the woods.

The school provided ample and excellent refreshments throughout the day with an endless supply of fresh homemade cakes and scones – a fair payoff for all the hard-work that was put in by the volunteers. The weather was kind and the teams worked really hard to finish the projects they had been set. A really enjoyable and productive voluntary day out was had by all, and the experience gave us the opportunity to meet other members of the department with whom we would not normally work.

Everyone went home very tired, very dirty, but extremely happy and eager to do the whole thing again, and the school was delighted to see the finished improvements that the teams had worked so hard to create.