More than 15,000 children from dozens of schools across the region have experienced a hands-on day of rural life and learned important lessons about where their food comes from thanks to a very special event which is gearing up to mark its 10th anniversary.
The award-winning Children’s Countryside Day was first staged by Glendale Agricultural Society (GAS) in 2004 and has now become a key feature in the summer curriculum of schools in Northumberland and North Tyneside - and last night it won a Young People’s Mentor Award in the Northumberland National Park Awards 2013.
The event is specifically planned to give children of all abilities and needs, aged from five to nine, first-hand experience of rural life. Through interactive demonstrations, the Children’s Countryside Day aims to connect the countryside to the curriculum.
During the day, more than 1,500 school children from over 40 different schools are given an insight into aspects of food, farming and the countryside.
The day is also recognised as one of the foremost rural educational events in the UK and was awarded the prestigious Bayer FACE Innovative Learning Award in 2011.
More than 60 local businesses and community-led organisations showcase their skills and crafts to educate children on a wide range of countryside-based industries, ranging from beekeeping, arable farming and red squirrel preservation through to butchery, gamekeeping and flood management techniques.
The day is free for all schools and their only cost to attend is the transport to the event.
The Children’s Day is organised by a small volunteer committee with one part-time member of staff.
More than 250 volunteers from the local community help at the event to ensure the children and the teaching staff enjoy a truly rewarding and informative day.
The 2013 event, held in June, was the biggest to date with more than 1,750 children from 40 schools and 65 different exhibits on show.
It was also the first to be staged by event manager Ruth Oldfield, who grew up in rural Northumberland but gained event management experience working in Australia for radio stations, charities and businesses including Ernst & Young.
She has big plans for the future of the Children’s Countryside Day.
Ruth said: “Ten years of the Children’s Countryside Day is an absolutely fantastic landmark but I hope it’s only the start of a very long existence.
“It’s really important that we continue to educate many more children about rural issues and the way of life in the countryside.
“It’s absolutely vital that children learn where their food comes from and understand the role of farming in their everyday lives.”
Ruth is already hard at work on the 2014 day, which will mark 10 years in the Countryside Classroom and to celebrate the occasion, the society will be inviting children to come and have ‘Fun in the Field.’
“We are all excited about next year’s event and it promises to be the best one yet. You can rest assured that it’ll be an extra-special event to celebrate an extra special achievement,” said Ruth, who works with a committee chaired by farmer John Renner.
The committee is made up of local people who farm themselves or have first-hand experience of the agricultural sector.
Six members of the team have completed the Countryside Education Visitors Accreditation Scheme training course, bringing a higher level of professionalism to the Northumberland event than many others aimed at educating young people.
John Renner said: “The Children’s Countryside Day really is an exceptional educational event and one which is continually evolving to meet the needs of the curriculum, the children and the changing rural economy.
“According to a recent survey by the British Nutrition Foundation, nearly a third of primary school children believe that cheese comes from plants.
“Children are becoming detached from how their food is produced and the Children’s Countryside Day aims to re-engage children with the origins of their food and explain to them the importance of farming and the countryside in their everyday lives.”
The Children’s Countryside Day costs approximately £25,000 to stage each year and the event could not take place without the support from key funders and local businesses.
Ruth continued: “Over the past 10 years, we have been very fortunate to receive large grants from Defra and the Rural Development Programme for England’s Leader initiative.
“The event has also attracted substantial donations from Cheviot Futures, the Environment Agency, the Community Foundation and Countryside Learning.
“We are delighted to have support from the Sustainable Development Fund, the Simpson McCreath Trust, Sir James Knott Trust and Carr-Ellison Family Trust for next year’s event.
“Next year will be a major year for us and I’m delighted to be playing my part in helping the Children’s Countryside Day go from strength to strength.”