This has been a very busy 4 months of School Engagement. Road Shows, Experience Days, Broads in a Box Project Days and a Show Case Event – no wonder it went by so fast! The Road Show and Project Day sections of our Core Package remained the same as last year with a just a few improving tweaks here and there. The Experience Days on the other hand were re-arranged both because we’d moved Northwards and also because we decided students needed to see a functioning Mill.
The Experience Days began at Thurne Mill, lovingly looked after by Debra Nicholson, Marshman Paul and an enthusiastic team of volunteers. Paul the Marshman, dressed in moleskin trousers and neckerchief, kept the children spell bound with tales of exploding flour mills, marshes flooded so deep we’d be up to our waists in river water, cold winter nights spent greasing the mill’s moving parts every four hours and of cattle being slaughtered on the river’s bank before being transported by boat to London. Debra told the story of Bob Morse, Thurne Mill’s knight in shining armour, who bought it for £75 and lovingly restored her to full working order. My favourite answer to why the students thought the Mill was painted white was: “Because in those old days everything was black and white”!
Our boat trip this year was from Horning on board the Southern Comfort Mississippi Paddle Boat sailing down the River Bure to Ranworth Broad. Armed with binoculars and Experience Day Work books the students floated past the busy boat yards, holiday homes and pubs that line the river around Horning before entering peaceful stretches of reedbeds, wet woodland and lovely big houses with gardens running down to the river. We spotted moor hens, great crested grebes, marsh harriers, a bittern, terns, coots and even a couple of Triceratops dinosaurs…. Sadly, the otter eluded us every time.
The afternoon was spent at How Hill, using the How Hill Trust site, dyke dipping, exploring Toad Hole Cottage and, if it was there, the Pleasure Wherry Hathor. We pulled up the usual assortment of magical aquatic invertebrates including some huge diving beetles, dragon fly nymphs, a few fish and a range of snails eggs. On a few of our days we took the groups to either Carlton Marshes or Wheatfen Nature Reserve instead and added a couple of smooth newts to the Water, Mills and Marshes dyke dipping species list!
Many of the schools we worked with this year were small village schools. This meant our groups consisted of either the entire school, like Fleggburgh Primary School, or a mix of Years 3 through to 6. It was great to see how, throughout the process, the older students looked out for and included the younger members; making sure they didn’t fall into the dykes, had the time and encouragement to get up and down the mill ladder and were consulted for suggestions about what items were needed on their models and how they would be designed. The resulting creations were always accepted and incorporated into the models, even if they were only perfect in the eye of the creator! Having said that, a number of times the youngest member of the model building team would be the one in charge and led their team incredibly well.
Going round the schools for the Project Days it brought home just how much the students had absorbed from the Road Shows and Experience Day. They would happily explain to me that the mill had been placed just here on their model , next to the dyke and the river, so that it could pump water out of the dyke into the river! One student drew Thurne Mill from memory and we had our very first trestle mill built from junk….
It was also heartwarming to also see the variety of extension activities based on the Broads National Park done with the students back at school – from assemblies to art to project books to map making. Acle Primary School even decided to build Year 5’s summer term curriculum around the Broads National Park and create a Project Book in the process. They read Marcus Sedgwick’s Floodland, learnt all about water pollution and what can and can’t be put down our toilets and drains, designed buildings to withstand floods and tested them by pouring water over them and created beautiful paintings off the back of our Experience Day. All this outpouring of creativity, discovery and science was displayed alongside their Broads in a Box models and individual Project Books at the class end of term Parent Afternoon.
This year we had 42 final entries for the Broads in the Box competition. We held our Show Case Event at Fairhaven Primary where first, second and third prize were announced, tea and cake was served, the Chet Boat was on display, the RSPB had a stall and the 42 boxes, Acle artwork and Fairhaven collages were on display. All the effort over the months melted away when a student came up to me and said, “I’m so glad I could come here, I’ve never won anything before and I’ve brought my Gran along to have a look too.”