Archimedes Training founded by dynamic social entrepreneur Sarah Blackwell, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year with a lunch into its third continent- Australia.
Back in 2000, Sarah became disillusioned with the way her dream job as environmental education development officer at a Derbyshire outdoor education centre was going. “People’s understanding of environmental education seemed to lurch between pond dipping and governmental sustainable development policies” remembers Sarah. “I was on a course on tree felling with the British trust for Conservation Volunteers when I saw Forest schools in practice with three and four year olds in the woods and made the decision to quit. I booked a Forest School course in Gloucester with guru Gordon Woodall and in 2001, together with a colleague, I founded Archimedes Training to train adults to lead future forest schools. We named it after the mathematician’s famous saying, “Give me a leaver big enough and I can move the earth”. We really believed inthe Forest Schools ethos we had experienced and thought it could have that life changing effect on people. We leased 155 acres of land in four different woods around Sheffield from the Forestry Commission, Sheffield City Council and the Peak National Park in Derbyshire to start. That first year we ran the business from the attic and with 40 young people on five projects, we turned over a grand total of £20k between us!”
“By 2002 we were running Forest Schools training projects all over Derbyshire, Sheffield, Barnsley, Doncaster, Leeds, East Riding, as far South as Stratford. We had outgrown the spare room when Sheffield Council’s Ted Talbot told us about the Wood Lane Countryside Centre’s refurbishment under the Big Lottery. We rented a room and we’re still there in Stannington now, and in 2003 we became the first independent training organization in the country to deliver Forest Schools.
By 2006 we were the largest provider of Forest Schools training in the North of England, offering accredited qualifications under the Open College network to level 4, working for independent schools and nurseries, local education authorities the local national parks and the Welsh Forestry Commission delivering training 36 weeks a year all over the country.”
At that point in 2008, Sarah bought her partner out and expanded the range further. “We set up the Dangerous Adventure Club brand”, Sarah recalls. “We ran birthday parties, a successful holiday club and trialed a breakfast club in Ecclesall Woods.” My daughter ran the parties while taking her A levels, she’s a real entrepreneur and is now studying international business at Cardiff University while setting up Dangerous Adventure clubs in Wales. I am so proud of all she’s achieved despite being profoundly dyslexic and becoming achieving the top five elite trampolinist in the country.”
Over the past three years, Archimedes has grown exponentially. Sarah now finds herself writing qualifications at the highest levels, working all over the country, taking on more staff including Dave Watson approved leading bushcraft and foraging expert Paul Moseley and a management team to release her to develop the brand globally.
This year we will have trained over 4000 people to date. We are now the biggest Forest Schools and outdoor learning training provider supporting people from all around the world, training staff operating in countries as diverse as Canada, America, Portugal, France, Spain, Norway, Hungary, Dubai, New Zealand and now Australia. People are tracking us down on the internet, coming over to Britain to be trained, then asking us to go over and train more Forest School exponents- it’s fantastic. They say they come to see us as our reputation is simply the best in the business. We have the most courses in the most places at the highest qualification levels at the best value. And in June I finally paid myself a ‘proper’ wage for the first time- that felt really good!”
As for the future, Sarah has big dreams. We have directly, and indirectly, worked with thousands of families so far and we want to touch the lives of thousands more, she says. We want to set up many more Forest and Beach Schools for young people like my own son, with learning disabilities. We recently launched Beach Schools for coastal areas and there are more programs in the pipeline for urban areas. I’d love to see Training Centres running on a Forest Schools ethos giving the users the life skills, confidence and competence they so desperately need to function in todays’ society. I’m also establishing my first Kindergarten- I just need a wood with an adjacent building!
Archimedes were invited by the British Embassy in Australia and UK Trade and Investment to launch Archimedes Training in Australia. ‘We have had a lot of international interest in our courses and we were really excited to be invited by UKTI to attend a trade delegation to Sydney’.
The five day trade mission was attended by Sarah and Archimedes Business Development assistant Jennifer Herniman and they met with a range of people who were interested in the development of Forest Schools and Beach Schools. Jennifer commented ‘it was such an amazing experience for us to travel across the world and spread the benefits of forest schools, beach schools our outdoor learning education.’
Sarah is extremely excited about the first courses in Australia which will be re-branded as Archimedes Bush Schools. ‘All the studies show how children learn to be so creative, use their imaginations, develop strengths like social and emotional self-reliance and problem solving skills in this way and this is completely relevant to all children across the world. Hopefully our courses in Australia will be one of many future ventures into international waters’.
The Initial training weeks will be held at the following centres:
Faculty of Education, University of Wollongong, Northfields Ave, Wollongong NSW 2522: 23rd to 27th April 2012
Cockburn Wetlands Education Centre, 184 Hope Road, Bibra Lake, Western Australia 6163 16th to 20th April 2012 For further information for this course please contact Dr Libby Lee Hammond – L.Lee@murdoch.edu.au
Sarah commented “What I live for are lives being changed, or what’s the point? I have an amazing team of dedicated people behind me, I am planning on writing ‘the Archimedes book’ on Forest Schools, I have survived so many life traumas and kept going, my children are thriving and I have the best job in the world. I consider myself blessed.”
For more information, visit www.forestschools.com www.archimedes-training.com.