LEAP College and Lakeside College unveil new outdoor learning facility

LEAP College, a 19 – 25 years of age autism specialist provision, and Lakeside College, a 16 – 19 years old autism specialist college, has opened a new outdoor facility called Lyme and Wood Learning Hub. 

The hub has been developed and created by staff and adult students, focussing on the benefits of learning outdoors following the government’s nature for climate challenge. It is located on the previous Lyme coal pit and wood coal pit which were part of the Haydock Collieries. 

The hub was officially opened by Cllr Susan Murphy, mayor of St Helens, on Friday 4 March. 

Cllr Susan Murphy said: “Thank you all for allowing me to come along today and be a big part of what you are doing. This new resource is absolutely fantastic for our young people.”  

LEAP and Lakeside students originally worked on the site in 2018 when it belonged to Enovert, the UK’s leading providers of waste management services. 

LEAP students worked alongside Enovert staff and community partners to develop the landfill site through ecological and horticultural programmes that brought it into the public domain. It became an integral part of the local Lyme and Wood Country Park. 

Both colleges, which are part of Wargrave House School & College, are proud to offer an innovative curriculum that goes beyond the classroom, helping students to develop social, emotional, life skills, as well as increasing their confidence and giving them an opportunity to be a part of exciting and challenging activities that extend their educational experiences. The students’ timetable is 75% -80% off site in the community in a range of settings. 

Offsite experiences have motivated students to achieve more, demonstrating to stakeholders the ability students have to further create and shape their own educational curriculum which inspires them. 

The result of two years’ work is the Lyme and Wood Learning Hub. The adult education students developed a vision board as part of their accredited learning modules for employability, they sourced community partners who could work alongside them and develop their skills further to enhance their creative aspiration which was an offsite classroom that would support lifelong learning skills, quality of life outcomes and prepare the students for adulthood. 

Already, students have built raised beds for growing food, flowers and plants which they can use and sell at their Friday Earlestown Market stall. 

They will build bird boxes, tables and feeding stations to enhance the local area and support natural conservation and upcycle furniture to sell on their market stall and provide much needed items for local homeless families. 

They are also designing a sensory themed pergola to offer a seating space for those times when they or others require a sensory break outdoors. 

All these activities enhance their curriculum and EHCP (education and healthcare plan) outcomes by developing functional maths, English and ICT, as well as embedding employability skills, communication and social interaction enhancing essential qualities. 

The planned and scheduled tasks cater for students’ needs for a predictable structure and understanding of expectations, whilst the activities have enabled development of abilities which will have lifelong relevance such as teamwork, communication, managing risk and problem solving. 

Robin Bush, CEO of Wargrave House School and College said: “We firmly believe that there shouldn’t be any glass ceilings on young people with autism and actually what this hub does is symbolises our commitment to actually breaking those barriers down. We redefine what’s possible here at LEAP College, we don’t believe that anybody should be restricted by anything.” 

Stuart Jamieson, head of school, Wargrave House School and College, said: “This is a blank canvas, and it has masses of scope to develop, and we are really excited about doing that. We are really proud of our young people, and we know that this resource will keep growing and go from strength to strength.” 

The impact and progress of the project has been evidenced across the college days. Students now have improved confidence, self-esteem, problem solving, social skills and independence. 

Many students work 1:1 onsite due to their complex autism and behavioural needs but the hub has allowed them to interact with peers in a space where they feel more comfortable due to clear boundaries and expectations whilst providing enough space for them to be able to move away, reducing the pressure of interaction. 

The benefits have been observed by external agencies such as NAS Autism Accreditation Team, Social Workers, ESFA, Local Authorities, local MP, OFSTED as well as SLT, trustees and governors. 

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