Here comes the Spring

By Feline Charpentier, 6.2 Houseparent and Teacher of Outdoor Work

Ostara, or the spring equinox, falls this Saturday, and marks the first point of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. It marks the moment when the sun crosses the equator line, and heads north. It is also known as the vernal equinox, ver in latin meaning spring – think verdant, youthful, fresh. Day and night are of equal length, and from then on our days begin to lengthen. All around us nature is coming alive, and there are signs of this life everywhere we look, from the lambs in the fields to the buds on the trees. The daffodils on Emma’s walk are just beginning to show off their glorious egg yolk yellow. The sound of birdsong is hard to miss everywhere in school!

Ostara, from the Germanic goddess Oestre, and the root of the word Oestrogen, the hormone which stimulates ovulation, was how our ancestors marked the spring, and saw the end of winter. It is a time of perfect balance, of finding harmony, between the dark and the light, the inner and outer, between intuition and the rational.

It is a time where embracing male and female energies, regardless of gender, can be full of potential, and give life to new ideas and ways of seeing the world. It is often in the state of harmony, and balance, that true change can occur. It is a time when all those gentle hopes we had at Imbolc might be beginning to come to fruition. When we can truly look forward, not back.

Two of the symbols we still mark this time of year with, the hare and the egg, have their origins at least in part in the ancient festival of Ostara. The goddess Oestre was often depicted as having the head of a hare, a symbol of immortality and rebirth. There are many versions of the story where she changed a bird into a hare to have as her companion. Eggs were thus given and received as gifts, as potent symbols of life and the fertility of the earth. The yolk and the white representing the perfect harmony of life.

Ostara is a wonderful time to literally, and figuratively, plant seeds for the year ahead. Having more time in the day to do all those jobs we wait all winter to begin is so energising, and there is a spring in the step of those you meet on walks. On our sixth form course we have been planning our planting for the year ahead, choosing seeds and imagining the bounty in the autumn.

Spring clean your space, ridding it of the cloak of winter, and face the summer ahead with fresh eyes. Bring buds into your home to see life burst forth, paint eggs, spend the day outdoors enjoying the longer daylight and fresh air. Why not revisit the intentions made at Imbolc, and step forth boldly into the light. Now is the time we may see them bloom. Celebrate the different aspects of your being, the balance that exists, noticing how we all live harmoniously with one another most of the time, even through crisis and hardship. There is so much to look forward to.

Jacob sheep wool blankets available to buy

By Marcella Craven, ODW Tutor Technician

Many of you may have seen the beautiful blankets and shawls sold in the Outdoor Work shop here at Bedales. We currently have large blankets (202cm x 149cm, £200) and medium blankets (142cm x 149cm, £120), as well as two wraps/shawls (£70) and balls of Jacob yarn, double knitting weight, in cream, dark brown and oatmeal (£4 per 50g ball) available to buy. To put in an order, please email outdoorwork@bedales.org.uk.

We thought you might like to know a little more about the work and process that goes into producing these unique items. The blankets and shawls are made from Jacob sheep wool, produced from our rare breed flock which numbers approximately 48 breeding ewes and lambs. Jacob sheep fleece is brilliant for weaving purposes as they produce different colours of wool which allow a natural coloured end product which has not been dyed in anyway.  The staple length of the wool is also excellent which makes it really popular among spinners.

Every year we hire a professional shearer to shear our flock. Shearing day usually takes place in June and is always popular with our students and our sheep, who enjoy getting a haircut once the weather warms up! It takes us around two years before we have enough wool fibre to make it worthwhile sending it to be processed into yarn.

Once shorn from the sheep, the fleeces are rolled and stored ready for our students to help sort the fleeces. They take away any old, matted or ruined wool from the fleece and separate the fleece into colours, white, brown and mixed colour wool. It’s a great way to learn about the qualities of raw wool, it’s many uses and feel the lanolin on their hands. This year we collected 132kg of white wool, 81kg of brown wool and 33kg of mixed colour wool (once spun this will be grey).

The wool is then rammed into large fibre sacks, which are sent to The Natural Fibre Company based in Cornwall.  They scour (wash) the wool and set up their spinning machines so that once spun and oiled the returned product is only the unique wool we have sent to them.

The mill make three products for us, spun yarn to knit with, washed and carded fibre to spin with at school and spun yarn to weave with. Once spun and on a cone, the weaving wool is sent off again.  This time it travels to Wales to the Melin Teifi Wool Mill in Dyfed, Ceredigion.  Here it is handwoven into the blankets, wraps and scarves which you would recognise from the ODW shop.

The effort, care, process and craftsmanship that goes into making these products ensures that the end result is totally air mile free, British made, and 100% Bedalian.

To celebrate lambing season and to mark the end of term, we are offering you the chance to WIN a medium blanket worth £120! Find out how to enter on Bedales’ Instagram page here.

Ushering in the spring

By Feline Charpentier, 6.2 Houseparent and Teacher of Outdoor Work

In Living with the Land, our Sixth Form course that launched at the start of this academic year, we talk about the changing of the seasons a lot. About paying attention to the landscape around us, about how the land can influence our own state of mind, and help us be more present. The old calendars which celebrated the earth cycles, marking the four solstices and the four cross quarters, are often good for reminding us of the inevitable change that occurs all around us.

In the traditional calendar we are approaching one of the four fire festivals, a cross quarter moment in the year, known as Imbolc (or St Bride’s, or Groundhog Day, in the US). The other fire festivals are Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain. Imbolc this year occurs on the night of 1 February, going into the morning of the 2nd.

Looking out of the window it can seem that all of life is dreary, grey and wet, that there is little to hope for. We are all trapped indoors, and it can feel that spring may never come. And yet, all of life lies dormant beneath the soil. The trees hold the promise of buds, there are snowdrops beginning to flower. It is a matter of weeks before signs of life will begin to show.

Imbolc literally refers to ‘in the belly’, referring originally to lambing season, which would be beginning about now for many farmers, to the fertility of the soil, the imminent arrival of spring and all the life it brings with it. Our ancestors would have spent time reflecting on the year behind them, and planning the planting for the year ahead. They would have seen this time of year as a time to rest, to recuperate, to sleep and store energy for what was to come.

In some way our current confinement is exactly that, a time to rest, and plan for what lies ahead.

Although we all wish things were different and we might even be wishing the time away, there is hope to be found in the small things, in the inevitable turning of the earth towards the spring, in the time we have been gifted to reflect, to recuperate, to make plans, to hope.

Imbolc brings with it the opportunity to reflect on the darkness of winter, to draw breath and take stock, to prepare for the newness of the spring and summer ahead. To plant seeds, both literally and metaphorically, for the future. In our online ODW lessons we are baking, reading, crafting and making, planting seeds, planning what we will grow this year, looking forward to when we are all here again.

So maybe, this Imbolc, why not write your intentions for the year ahead, plant some seeds, bring a few sprigs of hazel inside to see the buds come out, or even make a solar (or St. Brigid’s) cross if you can gather some Rushes outdoors. Find instructions here.

Down on the farm – Outdoor Work update

By Andrew Martin, Head of Outdoor Work

Growing up on a dairy farm in Ireland, I never really went on holidays; there were always too many jobs to do. Our modest little farm here at Bedales is no different, and we had so much work planned for the Spring term. Jobs included laying the hedge along Emma’s Walk, coppicing another section of the sand quarry and pollarding the willow in Ruth’s Meadow. We had also planned blacksmithing, vegetable bed preparation, bee keeping, jam and marmalade making, spinning and weaving, not to mention all the jobs around the farm too. I should never have let the students go home for the holiday at the end of last term!

We are working hard on the theory aspects of all this necessary work, and trying to do as much online as we can. But getting cold, dirty and wet – and developing the resilience to work through it all – is one of the key parts of Outdoor Work, and not something we can easily replicate online.

The animals on the farm are doing well. They are a bit fed up of the wet weather, but last weekend’s snow was a welcome break from the drizzle which saw a very entertaining snowball fight between the Southdown, Herdwick and Jacob sheep! They are all due to start lambing just after half term, and we will have a second round of lambing at the start of the Summer term with our main Jacob flock. Little Pig and Bessie are due to farrow towards the end of February, after we hired a big saddleback boar in October. We can’t wait to see the results of this crossbreeding.

Some very special and long awaited arrivals should also be joining us around February. They are the three Fs: Favour, Freya and Fingers, our ready-made Dexter herd. Favour is pregnant and due in April, Freya is the 10-month-old daughter of Favour, and Fingers is her cousin… Confused?! We are too, but we can’t wait to get these little cows settled in and ready for when you all return.

As always you can keep an eye on what we are up to by following us on Instagram and Twitter.

New course update: Living with the Land

By Andrew Martin, Head of Outdoor Work

Living with the Land is our new Sixth Form course, which was written by Feline and me, and introduced to the curriculum this year. The course aims to equip students with the necessary practical skills to live lightly off the land, and enable them to look at the issues surrounding the environment and our impact upon it. It is a natural progression from our Outdoor Work Bedales Assessed Course (BAC), however it goes into far greater depth and includes significant self-directed work, including a portfolio and a ‘major’ project in the final year.

Living with the Land around us means having a greater awareness of our environment, living in rhythm with the seasons, trying to reduce our footprint and applying our new-found knowledge to other aspects of our lives and our community. This term we have been focusing on getting students to really think about their immediate surroundings. We have encouraged them to take a step back and take time to really consider the impact we are having on the natural environment. 

So far this term students have spent time looking at and observing our beautiful estate. This has meant a lot of walking and talking, as well as just sitting in a field, letting our senses tell us more about the land around us. We have been looking at permaculture and how its principles might be applied to ourselves, our community and beyond. We have built wattle and daub walls and started looking at natural building and how empowering and beautiful it is. Bread baking, foraging, making hedgerow preserves and site surveying are just some of the topics we have already touched upon over the past three weeks on this exciting and enriching course.

Innovation at Bedales

By Alistair McConville, Director of Learning and Innovation

Outdoor work at Bedales

Another way is possible. At Bedales we have long eschewed a narrow focus on preparing students for terminal exams. A nourishing educational experience must do much more than fill heads with knowledge for the sake of supervised regurgitation. We live out our Ruskin-inspired motto: “Head, Hand and Heart”. Every day at school should strike a balance between intellectual stimulation, creative work, and service to the community. We have recently re-structured our school day around this principle. There is choice about when to get up, since we know that autonomy is motivating, and that not all adolescents are designed for early mornings. Lots of students will opt to start the day with a co-curricular activity: meditation, feeding sheep, baking bread, a country walk; they might get into the kitchens to help serve and clear breakfast; others will choose a little more slumber before academic lessons and plan their activities for later. We know that an under-slept student is an inefficient one. Lessons start at 9.45. A full hour later than they used to be. We know that it’s refreshing for students to take breaks and to switch activity, so we have built a further blast of non-academic activity into the middle of the day. Music ensembles, drama rehearsals, service activities with local community partners, tending the vegetable garden, or a tennis lesson, for example. More lessons in the afternoon, followed by a final raft of optional activities in the evening. But, crucially, lots of choice about when to be active and when to rest. So, everyone chooses co-curricular activities, but by no means in every slot. It’s really important for young people to be able to opt for unstructured leisure, too, and they can choose when to get their homework done as long as they hit the deadline. No compulsory ‘prep’ times here.  

Alistair McConville and Bedales students

We have baked our “Head, Hand, Heart” principles into curriculum and assessment. For a dozen years Bedales has been issuing the now famous ‘Centre Assessed Grades’ for its own GCSE-equivalent courses, the Bedales Assessed Courses (BACs). We have trusted teachers to report reliably and constructively on the broad range of work that students do, and so have universities. And we have been able to assess in a much broader way than GCSEs permit. As part of our Outdoor Work BAC, for example, a student’s ability to work in a team whilst renovating a tractor is as much a part of their assessment as writing about the process. Their ability to explain and defend their project to an audience counts towards their grade. This is ‘work that matters’ to paraphrase Ron Berger. We’re rolling out a Level 3 equivalent course in Living With the Land this September to teach students how to live in a radically sustainable way. Watch out for a proliferation of cob houses and hemp-clad foragers in the Hampshire hills!

We’re adopting a rigorous project-based learning approach in year 9, inspired by the Expeditionary Learning Movement and our friends at the XP School in Doncaster. Students will work on real-life enquiry questions and study across disciplines in order to respond practically to real-world issues. For example, we will look at the contemporary refugee crisis through the lenses of history, geography, religious studies and literature at the same time as planning practical responses to support our partners at the Rural Refugee Network.

It’s an enviable experience for our students and they know it, but we don’t want to keep it all to ourselves. We are eager to share this kind of rounded, enriching approach to education with others, knowing that far too many languish in an unfulfilling exam-obsessed rut. We’re working with a small number of independent schools to build a partnership with our innovative colleagues and friends in the maintained sector at Bohunt School, Gosport’s Key Education Centre, School 21 and the XP School to make the case for significant national assessment reform. Watch this space, but the time has never felt more ripe for a thorough re-thinking of the drudgerous, purgatorial treadmill of an education system obsessed with terminal exam results…  

Down on the farm

By Andrew Martin, Head of Outdoor Work

It’s so good to have everyone back at Bedales and to have students involved on the farm again. With the school closed during lockdown, many of our usual helpers weren’t around, but with animals to feed and a farm to keep running, those of us still on site were busier than ever. So here’s a quick catch-up on what you might have missed…

Since March: three Herdwick, 12 Bedales chocolate and 27 Jacob lambs were born, our two sows had 12 Berkshire and 13 Oxford Sandy & Black piglets between them, we sold six live lambs and two ewes, sent eight hoggets to the abbatoir, lost 15 chickens to a mystery predator, acquired two Pygmy goats, sold 22 piglets, thought about getting a cow (watch this space!), baled 111 bales of hay, harvested over 250 jars of honey, sheared 68 sheep, trimmed countless feet and bottle fed a lamb in my house for five weeks! This is without even mentioning all the fruit and vegetables that has been grown, harvested and frozen in preparation for delicious recipe making with students this term.

We received a huge amount of help from staff living on site, who so generously gave their time to tend to the vegetable beds and polytunnels. Not only did this provide a form of lockdown therapy, but a wonderful community spirit flourished – thank you! I would also like to give a special mention to Outdoor Work’s Kirsten and Marcella, as well as my own family, all of whom worked tirelessly throughout a long and sometimes difficult period to help keep this unique and beautiful farm thriving. We very much look forward to working alongside students and staff once again. Here’s to a fabulous new school year!

For the latest updates, follow Bedales Outdoor Work on Instagram here.

Outdoor Work update – Summer 2020

By Andrew Martin, Head of Outdoor Work

The Summer term is usually the busiest and most rewarding; students can literally see the fruits of their labour all around them. But at the moment, certain areas of Outdoor Work (ODW) remind me of a post-apocalyptic movie. People have gone, tools have been left, a shoven leaning against a wall is slowly being choked by bindweed as it makes its way up the shaft. Yet despite the eerie silence and our missing workforce, plants still grow and animals still need tending…

Every year we time the lambing of our Jacob sheep to start at the beginning of the Summer term. This year at the black barn, we got 26 lambs from 15 ewes. Across the yard, our two sows, Bessie and Little Pig, were busy giving birth to 22 piglets between them. The barnyard was buzzing with new life and a welcome distraction for passers-by on their daily lockdown walk.

We currently have around 90 sheep on the farm. They are all at different stages of life and require a lot of hands-on work. Social distancing and farming don’t really go well together and it is at times like this that the term ‘Bedales bubble’ has been very appropriate. Without the help of students, regular jobs like weighing, treating, foot trimming, shearing and moving sheep have been a challenge. But my ‘ODW bubble’ of Kirsten, Marcella, Oscar Kingsley-Pallant, Josh Baty and my family has worked wonders!

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Notes from the Bedales Apiary

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By Marcella Craven, Outdoor Work Technician and Beekeeper

Beekeepers all over the country watch their hives intently at this time of year.

All the long winter we have fed our bees with fondant, checked that the hives haven’t blown over (at Bedales we weighted our roofs down with slabs during the severe winds and we still had one fly off)! We treated the hives for disease.  We also worried that pests might have got into the hives, silently wrecking the comb, eating stores or consuming bees! Woodpeckers, badgers, mice, wasps and worse of all, man-made poisons, insecticides and sprays all present a serious risk to the hives.

This year the weather has not been good for bees. Wet, mild weather makes hives damp.  Bees can’t fly to make cleansing flights, and the colony can chill easily. Global warming is changing our seasons and this causes a difference to the forage available, and the weather which a bee needs to be able to venture out and retrieve it.  I have observed that life for a colony is complex and often mirrors our human problems.

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Outdoor Work hosts Bedales’ first ever ‘forge-in’

By Iris Campbell-Lange, 6.1

Outdoor Work is unique in its ability to displace us from the normality of walled classrooms. It enables everyone, regardless of age, to become acquainted with the work that our hands can miraculously create.

On Saturday I, along with seven other keen blacksmiths (who are either learning blacksmithing as part of their Outdoor Work BAC, have chosen blacksmithing as an enrichment or regularly attend blacksmithing club with our visiting resident blacksmith, Lucille from Little Duck Forge), diverged from the routine of morning lessons and attended Bedales’ first ever ‘forge-in’. A forge-in is the term given to a group of blacksmiths working collaboratively on a project – and in our case, we spent the day making a decorative panel for a new wooden archway to be built at the entrance to Outdoor Work near Steephurst.

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