Putting nature at the heart of their school and community, one primary school took their Nature Friendly Schools journey to new levels

Dr Amir Khan

Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts

Putting nature at the heart of their school and community, one primary school in Bradford took their Nature Friendly Schools journey to new levels as Dr Amir Khan made a special visit to open a new on-site nature reserve!

Academy St James, one of the first schools to embark on the Nature Friendly Schools project, set itself apart early on as a school determined to explore the potential for nature connection to become “part of the every-day” for its pupils. Emotional literacy, resilience and wellbeing were top priorities for headteacher Chris Tolsen and PE teacher/outdoor learning lead Niall O’Brien.

Chris explains: “Given that we have been in a pandemic, being outside will be great for us. It means our children will be able to experience outdoor learning on a regular basis. Children have been cooped up inside and not able to go out, so this area will be good for their wellbeing.”

The Nature Friendly Schools journey for Academy St James took place amid the numerous lockdowns and school closures of 2020, a period of immeasurable challenge for the school community. The project intervention placed significant emphasis on utilising the school grounds as a place to support pupils’ mental health and wellbeing alongside academic catch up, creating spaces to nurture skills, confidence, and recovery. Supported by a tailored package of teacher training, resources and equipment provided through the project, Academy St James spear-headed its Nature Friendly Schools journey, developing its teaching staff and increasing the amount of quality learning experiences held in the school's redeveloped grounds with renewed confidence and ability.

The progress and commitment made by Academy St James inspired the local community, so much so that a parent volunteer joined the project and worked tirelessly alongside his full-time job to build a new outdoor classroom – now the crowning glory of the school’s nature-rich grounds.

This school continues to pay it forward, with a genuine desire to share their journey with other schools and across the sector. Niall O’Brien gave up his own time to be a panellist for a live event hosted by the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts on the state of education and outdoor learning, joined by Dr Amir Khan. This webinar has now been viewed over 20,000 times! It was this event that introduced Amir to the work of Academy St James within the project and led to an invitation for Amir to visit the school and see the transformation that has taken place.

Headteacher Chris Tolsen adds: “Nurture groups and children with social, emotional and mental health needs will also be able to access it [outdoor classroom], and we hope it can be a haven for all of the children. We are very privileged to have Dr Amir Khan and The Wildlife Trusts officially opening it for us.”

Whilst the Nature Friendly Schools intervention has ended with Academy St James, their independent journey continues with passion and determination. You can follow the work of Academy St James and Dr Amir Khan on Twitter.

Nature Friendly Schools