From learning about the benefits of gardening and growing their own produce, to brushing up on their outdoor skills, more than 1,100 youngsters from across Berkshire have gathered at the Englefield Estate in Theale for a two-day education event.
The hugely popular Schools Days take place over two days and focus on food, farming and the countryside.
This year’s theme was sustainability and sessions covered how the Estate and wider communities produce food and timber, provide places to live, jobs and community facilities, all while caring for the environment, conserving the historic landscape and buildings, and planning for the future.
Englefield House, gardens, and wider grounds were transformed into an outdoor classroom for 25 schools to enjoy activities and workshops, with the whole visit adapted to follow Covid-19 guidance.
The annual event is organised by Englefield Estate staff and the Estate’s Community and Education Officer Dr Liz Mattison, who explained:
The theme for 2021 is sustainability, meeting current needs without infringing on the capacity of future generations to meet their needs. Visiting the Estate provides an ideal opportunity for children to see sustainability in action. After having to cancel 2020’s event due to the pandemic, we were thrilled to welcome schools back again this year to explore different areas of sustainability and to discover a passion and care for the natural world.
Estate staff, local volunteers, and local organisations led activities across the Estate, from the Estate Yard to woodland and fields, to Englefield House.
Reading and District Beekeepers Association, Berkshire Moth Group, Butterfly Conservation Upper Thames Branch, the Estate’s gamekeepers, and the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation Educational Trust offered sessions on animal lifecycles, wildlife, habitats and conservation.
Hampshire County Council Countryside Service, Life’s Little Bugs and Small Fire Big Adventure focused on health and wellbeing, including the new Countryside Code, mindfulness and positive thinking and outdoor skills. Englefield House, St Mark’s Church and a World War II bomb shelter were used to illustrate the history of the Estate and the people who live in the village.
Englefield’s Five A Day Market Garden and the Estate Maintenance Team shared the benefits of community working, from gardening and caring for soils to construction and building. Thames Water demonstrated clean water and water saving, Pang Valley Flood Forum explained natural flood management techniques, and Estate staff and volunteers demonstrated different forms of renewable energy production.
Teaching farming and food production were HBH Farming, Newbury and District Agricultural Society, The John Simonds Trust and the Estate’s gardeners. The forestry department and Oakey Tree Services gave sessions on trees and forests including wood production, how veteran trees are cared for and why trees are important while Estate carpenters demonstrated their skills to show how timber is used in construction.
In lieu of the 2020 event, the Estate produced a series of educational videos, covering topics including the countryside code and the farming year, as well as worksheets with activities to do at home or out in the local area relating to nature and wildlife. All the resources are free to access at www.englefieldestate.co.uk.
The first Schools Days in 1997 hosted 315 children from five schools in Berkshire with the number of schools and attendees increasing tenfold by the 2019 event.