Children with disabilities or special educational needs (SEN) will experience the joy of the outdoors in a specially created Woodland Centre, thanks to a grant from Hertfordshire Freemasons to the Mudlarks community charity.
The £55,000 grant will give children the opportunity to enjoy the freedom of safe, secluded woodland. The four-acre site is a secure, diverse native woodland and a picturesque location. It has running water, a composting toilet, and an open glade with a firepit.
Since 2018, Mudlarks has been inviting SEN school pupils and their teachers throughout the school year as well as beneficiaries from their summer holiday scheme. The young people can explore and observe nature and wildlife habitats, create sensory trails, build shelters, make fires, and learn how to cook on an open campfire.
Each five-and-a-half-hour session also includes activities such as woodland walks, sawing wood, shelter building, arts and crafts, and music sessions. The activities facilitate physical, social, and emotional development, and encourage communication and confidence.
For most of the children, The Woodland Centre is their first opportunity to enjoy the freedom of exploring beautiful woodland in safety, exclusively for their use. The young visitors’ disabilities prevent them from visiting typical parklands and playgrounds to gain exercise as they are often at risk of harm and bullying. The benefits of exploring these spaces include a healthier lifestyle and increased learning capacity. Parents regularly report to Mudlarks that their child returns home much calmer and happier after visiting the Woodland Centre. The grant from Hertfordshire Freemasons comes through the Masonic Charitable Foundation, which is funded by Freemasons, their families and friends, from across England and Wales.
Vic Hobson, Mudlarks community’s CEO, said: “We’re absolutely delighted with this generous grant from Hertfordshire Freemasons. We have been able to employ a designated Woodland Centre leader. We are now able to increase the numbers of schools and students attending so more marginalised disabled young people can benefit from our beautiful Woodland Centre.”
Martin Francis, from Hertfordshire Freemasons, said: “I’m really pleased we’ve been able to support Mudlarks’ hugely important project to get young people with often severe disabilities or learning issues to enjoy the natural world at their wonderful Woodland Centre. Often this can be their only chance to spend time outside their homes and the experience can be tremendously positive for them and for their families.”