How ‘Forest School’ is helping Garvagh to turn over a new leaf

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All was quiet in the deep dark wood - that was until Garvagh Forest School was launched with great success earlier this month.

The Forest School is just one of the innovative and imaginative projects shaping Garvagh Enterprise Trust’s vision for the former Garvagh High School site and adjoining forest. Garvagh Enterprise Trust is an umbrella organisation trying to save the site of the former High School for use by the community.

The first phase of Garvagh Forest School was a fantastic morning for local families with activities, exploration and fun in Garvagh Forest as well as some yarns from well known story-teller Maurice Todd.

Claire Millar from Garvagh Community Building was thrilled with the reaction to the event. “Lots of wellies, rain, muck and hot chocolate made the launch of Garvagh Forest School a huge success,” she posted on Garvagh Enterprise Trust’s facebook page.

“ A big thank you to Maurice Todd for educating everyone on forest flora and fauna and showing the children and the odd adult how to make bows and arrows to shoot the wild boar - albeit it was just polystyrene! Fantastic.”

Following the closure of the school in August 2013 the buildings were boarded up and access to the school grounds was restricted.

The site, which is owned by the Education Authority, has been declared surplus to requirements. The school building was listed in February 2014 in recognition of its special architectural and historic interest. In addition, a number of trees within the grounds are now protected under a Tree Preservation Order.

In response to the closure, Causeway Rural and Urban Network supported by the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland and Development Trust NI sponsored a process designed to explore the possibilities for the reuse of the school site. Using a ‘scenario planning’ approach conversations were initiated, ideas were generated and opportunities were provided for individuals, groups and agencies to work collaboratively to fashion a realistic plan.

Garvagh Enterprise Trust say: “Given the extent of the site, its uncertain future and the scale of this undertaking, we have broken the project into manageable, phase-able and achievable parts.

“While each element of the plan is being championed by different communities of interest in Garvagh, all have been working collaboratively as a community of purpose in seeking to realise a shared ambition for the future of the site.

“This has led to the formation of Garvagh Enterprise Trust to push this forward and secure the site for the benefit of the whole community.”