Hidden under the trees of Coppermill Fields, Lucy Jackson Watts has created a school-based around nature immersion, seasonal crafts and child-led learning. Flying Sycamores is a Forest School that runs sessions for toddlers, and home education/flexi-school sessions for 5-10 year-olds, where children are encouraged to learn through messy play. Flying Sycamores was one of the grant recipients of Elevate, a fully funded programme of advice and support for Waltham Forest businesses less than 3 years old.

Lucy founded the Forest School a year and a half ago; starting a business during lockdown had its challenges. “A lot of families were quite cautious about being around each other,” she tells us, “We did quite a lot of handwashing, which was great but slightly difficult when you’re working with mud.”

Elevate has provided Covid relief to a number of businesses, along with expert advice on how to recover from the pandemic and build for the future. Lucy was inspired to start the school due to her childhood spent broadly outdoors. She got permission from Lea Valley to use the land and is a member of the Forest School Association. She also gained a level 3 Forest School qualification. 

On the day we meet the sun is out over the fields, creating a stunning backdrop for the outdoor lessons. But working on a local nature reserve isn’t always so idyllic. Before the session begins Lucy has to clear the area from rubbish left by other visitors. This can include glass, cigarette butts or plastic packets. One group even left behind a sound system. “I’m not against partying at all. In fact I think it’s a great use of outdoor space” she tells us, “but I wish people were more conscious. I have to make everything safe for the toddlers.”

Safety is a top priority for the school; Lucy is a trained first aider, DBS checked and pays for insurance to cover the sessions. She also coordinates with the area warden to get practical information about local wildlife. 

A typical session at Flying Sycamores features a well-stocked mud kitchen alongside a dress-up box for the young participants. Fancy dress is encouraged, and one of the toddlers in the group today is desperate for a lizard costume. Lucy also sets up a simple rope swing and a small paint area for the day’s craft. On our visit, the plan is to paint pinecones and attach a small felt head to make a hedgehog. “I like to include facts in the craft making. For example, a lot of people don’t know that hedgehogs are very strong swimmers” she tells us. “I’m hoping that through these sessions people enjoy and become confident playing in nature local to them and think of the wildlife around them by not leaving rubbish – nature is a great resource for us all”.

“You sometimes get families with several children who have never been to the woods, those are the sessions I really adore.”

Looking to the future, Lucy hopes to make Forest School less elitist. She is hoping to secure more funding in order to lower the price of each session, allowing bigger families to attend together. After sessions with her advisor from Elevate, it was agreed that Lucy needed to create a website and promotional material in order to really circulate news of her business. Elevate provided a grant for this and she has been able to start experimenting with using social media and flyers. “You sometimes get families with several children who have never been to the woods, those are the sessions I really adore.” She plans to expand her current 2 classes a week with additional summer sessions and weekend family classes. With the support from Elevate, she’ll have access to advice and seminars that can guide her through making changes to her business, leading her to more success. 


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