Thrings Eats… Countryside Education Trust

Thrings Eats, from the Romsey office of the law firm Thrings, celebrates our region’s food producers and supports the Countryside Education Trust (CET). To begin this new series Josephine Taylor, a solicitor in the firm’s agriculture team, meets Jane Cooper of the CET to catch up on her exciting new plans.

“Quite a lot has changed,” says Jane Cooper, warmly welcoming us to Home Farm, the Countryside Education Trust’s base in the New Forest.

That’s an understatement from Jane, CEO of the trust. Its mission is to connect people with the countryside and educate them about rural life.

The Covid-19 lockdown effectively cut off the charity’s main income stream – the residential stays it provides for hundreds of schoolchildren a year, many from inner cities and deprived areas. When we meet, Jane and her dedicated team are planning for the first post-lockdown group to arrive.

“They are super-keen and can’t wait to come here,” says Jane, “And we can’t wait to have them. This term, we’re honouring all of the groups that were postponed – and keeping everything crossed.”

Although the CET site, near Beaulieu, may have been quiet over the past year, there has been a huge amount of activity behind the scenes. Support from the local council, the New Forest National Park, the community, companies and individuals kept it afloat during times when a lack of government support made the future look less than certain.

Two major new projects are under way. The first is fundraising for a sensory garden designed for all to enjoy, including people with disabilities and visitors from care homes.

The biggest project, thanks to a generous donor who has gifted an entire building, is a Climate Centre – an exhibition space which doubles as a classroom and meeting room, due to be opened by March 2022. This underlines a renewed focus on climate which Jane believes will be an important part of the work of the CET in years to come.

“I have been imagining a new building for a really long time so it’s a dream come true,” Jane says. “With our funder’s support, we’ve already developed some great climate teaching for infants, juniors and secondary pupils. We will also run teacher training and hope to be a hub for other green organisations.

“We’ve discovered that people identify with climate issues first and foremost on a parish level – and if you can engage them about things that are happening very locally then the need for action becomes real. We’ll emphasise the impact of the changing climate on the New Forest – appreciating what’s on our doorstep as a way in to looking at the wider issue of global climate change.”

There’s much more happening too. Activities including after school clubs and a pop-up shop were developed during lockdown and will continue.

The trust is one of eight in the country taking part in a major research study funded by the Ernest Cook Trust looking into how residential stays positively impact children – not just at the time of the visit but into secondary school and life beyond.

And the CET is also looking to expand its offering at its spectacular treehouse venue – already popular for weddings but now increasingly being used by businesses for team building.

“It’s a special place,” says Jane. “It also makes a wonderful setting for strategy development or wellbeing – it takes people entirely out of their own environment and inspires trust and creativity.”

With so many initiatives on the go, Jane is upbeat about the future – but clear that generating income and the generous support of donors will make all the difference to how much of an impact the trust can deliver. “I’m feeling positive that we’ve got a bright future and we can deliver some really exciting things,” she says. “We just need to carry on raising money to make it happen!”

If you would like to know more, please contact Josephine Taylor.