We won a £5,000 grant to create an outdoor classroom and buy equipment

Allendale Primary School in Northumberland told us about their success

Allendale Primary is a small rural school of 118 pupils in the North Pennines. Learning outside the classroom is a big part of our rich and engaging curriculum and we have a fantastic outdoor space of around an acre. This has long been used by all of our pupils, as well as the wider community, including the Allen Valley Scouts, Cubs and Wildlife Group. However, the space is very exposed to the extreme weather conditions of this area, which limited the type of activities our young people could take part in.

We therefore decided to launch a fundraising campaign to build an outdoor classroom, which would allow the pupils and community groups to be outside in all weather. We also wanted to raise funds for new tools and equipment as we had only a few poor quality, broken nets to explore the wonderful creatures in our pond habitat, while our tarps for shelter building had succumbed to the wind. Replacing these and purchasing new tools would enable the young people in our community to develop new skills in bush craft and conservation, as well as developing their confidence, cooperation, strength and motor skills.

We decided to apply to the Calor Rural Community Fund, which provides a crowdfunding platform for projects to be publicised and donations collected. It runs for a month every summer and the Fund then awards top-up grants of up to £5,000 for the best and most successful crowdfunding projects. We applied to take part in spring 2021 and ran our campaign in the one-month window from mid June to mid July.

On our crowdfunding page we gave details of what we wanted to do, highlighting the fact that learning outside has been shown to improve children's personal and social development, as well as their emotional wellbeing. We also told the story of our project journey so far, from securing funding from Newcastle University for a fire pit and pond, to the children planting trees donated by the Woodland Trust and using recycled materials to create hedgehog homes, bird boxes and a bug hotel.

We outlined our main aims on the website as follows:

  • Build an outdoor classroom to allow pupils and community groups to participate in a wider range of activities outdoors, in any weather!
  • Purchase pond dipping equipment so children and young people can record and monitor the wildlife in our pond and learn new practical skills in nature conservation.
  • Purchase shelter building equipment and bush craft tools to enable young people to learn new practical skills, develop their motor skills and participate in team-building activities.
  • Run CPD and training events led by the school's Forest School Level 3 practitioner utilising the tools, equipment and outdoor classroom.
  • Run nature-themed workshops led by the Allen Valley Wildlife Group which will teach children and local people about local wildlife and the importance of nature conservation.
  • Hold family and community days using the new equipment and the outdoor classroom, encouraging the wider community to foster a love of the outdoors and nature.

We also specified what we would do if we won the extra £5,000 from Calor, which was to:

  • Increase the size of the classroom (£3,600), to allow a whole class not just to sit inside but to complete practical activities, as well as allowing a greater range of community workshops to take place.
  • Make the shelter more weather proof (£1,200) by adding substantial timber sides to keep the driving rain, wind and snow out.
  • Run practical workshops (£300) to allow children to be involved in creating the classroom.

To add impact to our crowdfunding page, we made a video where pupils explained the difference the outdoor classroom would make. We also posted photos of the children taking part in outdoor activities in the space, and included comments from other groups who would also benefit. We publicised our campaign as much as we could both in school and through Facebook with the aim of engaging as many pupils, families and members of our community as possible.

People who wanted to support us could sign up or log into the page and make a donation. For every donation, our campaign received ten points, and we got additional points every time a supporter liked or shared the page. The projects which received the most points then went on to become finalists for the grant awards.

The Calor site enables you to offer incentive rewards for donations, so we came up with a whole range of options, including the chance to throw a whipped cream pie at a teacher (for a donation of £15 or more) or throw an icy bucket of water over a teacher (£20 or more). We also received donations of rewards from our community, including a framed painting by a local artist (for a donation of £80 or more) and several places on a print-making workshop for people who donated £50 or more. One person even donated £500 for the reward of naming the outside classroom.

In total we raised an incredible £15,200 from 219 supporters during the month. Judges from Calor then assessed the finalists on impact sustainability, submission and originality – and we were lucky enough to win one of the top £5,000 awards.

Our classroom is due to be built in the summer, however we have purchased some equipment for it already and the children have enjoyed pond dipping with it.

Anna Guttridge, Allendale Primary School, Northumberland