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News Archive

Wholewoods Community Building Projects: Outdoor Classrooms

Wholewoods is an ethical business supporting traditional woodland crafts and sustainable woodland management. Adrian Leaman is the Director of Wholewoods and a member of INTBAU. The article below is Adrian's summary of two of his recent projects.

Community building projects are a large part of my business. It’s a wonderful thing teaching people to handle real materials and to work with nature’s harvest. Our projects are about empowering people to shape their own environment. Often there will be a chance for a trip to the forest for inspiration and building materials. All of our projects use local coppice wood and if possible the students get involved in the harvesting of timber so they experience the whole building process and understand how raw materials relate to their environment.

In two recent projects, I have worked with school groups to build outdoor classrooms. The perfect outdoor classroom, to my mind, is a window into the natural world. It should be built from nature and should gradually return to nature; it should be open to welcome the outside in. The children help to build these classrooms and make them their own. The classrooms should also never be finished: the basic framework should be somewhat of a blank canvas, and an opportunity for successive years to make their own additions.

Queens School, Watford

 Part of our brief working with schools in this way is to find a design that creates an inspiring outdoor teaching venue whilst having room in the building process to involve students of different ages and abilities. This is always a design challenge that I enjoy. At Queens School we have built a reciprocal frame round house inspired by the Iron Age traditions of sinking poles into the ground rather than using bracing. This design turned out to be the most achievable and appropriate in this situation. Wood buried in the ground is prone to rotting, so we used large dimension local sweet chestnut, which should last for thirty to forty years. During the building process we also took the opportunity to hold a few sustainable design classes for the students which coincided with their sustainable design week.

I recently returned to Queens School for a six month safety inspection, to check that the structure has settled in and is safe to sign off. So much has happened since I was last there, and the staff and students have really made this space their own. Wood chip paths have been laid through the spinney and logs have been installed for seating. Rustic seating also adorns the classroom, and it is obvious that the students and staff are really enjoying the space. I am very pleased with the way the structure has seasoned and settled. During building we had worried that in the unexpected scorching sun the poles would season too quickly. Amazingly a small bird, yet unidentified, has taken to using the structure as a place to hunt.

Waldorf College – Bridging the Gap, BTEC in Life Skills

I am currently working with these teenage students to build their outdoor classroom based at Hawkwood College, a local land trust. We work three days a week at harvesting timber from the adjacent woodland, and we are crafting a round wood timber frame building to replace the tumbled down 16th century cow byre. Very little of the original building is still visible, although we know that it has been rebuilt several times. The most wonderful feature, which does still exist, is the cobbled floor. The new structure stands higher than the original, which would only have been high enough to house livestock. The budget here has been very tight and as a result we have reused old materials where possible and have also used what local timber we have been able to harvest. This has of course meant using species of trees that I would never usually recommend for outdoor structures. However, like pioneers we have used the materials available to us as best as possible. Students in successive years will add to the structure, completing one bay per year, and after it is finished students on subsequent courses will be involved in the maintenance and repairs. Using some ‘perishable’ timbers brings opportunities if the building can be considered a perpetual learning opportunity rather than a finished product. Other than providing shelter, the greatest benefit the structure offers is the opportunity for the students’ involvement in learning to build it. It therefore follows that its limited lifespan will offer repeated opportunities for future students to be involved in maintenance and rebuilding: quite a topsy-turvy approach to building!

For more information on Wholewoods projects, please click here to visit their website.