Children from schools in an interface area of north Belfast are transforming a peace wall gate with a grant from the Big Lottery Fund.
Holy Family Primary School has been awarded £9,460 through the Awards for All programme to run a shared Forest School programme in nearby Alexandra Park with Currie Primary School. They are one of 82 groups across Northern Ireland who are sharing in a total grants windfall of £701,660 (a full list of grants is available here.)
Northern Ireland Forest School Association trainer Brian Poots said: “When we first came here, and they walked through the peace wall gates, you could see kids from one school looking at the others, apprehensive, thinking ‘what are we doing here? We don’t go here.’ Now it’s becoming a happy meeting place.”
Forest Schools use the natural environment to develop children’s skills and increase well being. Activities include scavenger hunts where the children have to find different colours or textures in the park, and learning about forest plants and animals. The course lasts 12 weeks and at the end of it three teachers will be certified Forest School leaders so they can carry on the work.
Aideen Hickey, a teacher at Holy Family School, said the project had brought the children together: “The kids had thought of it as two parks. They didn’t realise it’s the same park but just divided by the wall. They were a little nervous at first, but now we’re in lesson four they all know each other and have become friends.
She added: “Both Holy Family and Currie were instrumental in opening the peace wall in 2011 and we believe that our joint working is contributing to community cohesion in the area. The future looks bright for Alexandra Park.”
Dessie Henderson (9) from Holy Family PS said he was already carrying the lessons from the Forest School home, and it has encouraged him and his brother to use the park more outside school too.
“I come to this park to play sometimes and to do litter picking like we do here at the Forest School, but I go to the whole park now,” he said.
For more information on Awards for All or to apply visit: