A man who has transformed woodland around a school in Five Oaks has been commended by conservationists for his work.
For the past two years David Spreadbury-Troy has worked in the wood around Ingfield Manor School to create an interactive outside learning environment for the children there.
All the pupils , aged three to 19, have neurological motor impairments such as cerebral palsy. They have a range of abilities and associated learning difficulties.
The Woodland Project has enabled them to flourish by learning everything from maths to art in the great outdoors.
What was once derelict, overgrown and unsafe is now a glade dotted with activity points.
Now David’s efforts have been recognised by the Downs Link Permaculture Initiative, which has named him community member of the year.
Bilal Rehman-Furs from the Southwater-based group said: “There are groups and organisations who have done a huge amount of work (such as this). I have never seen one person devote so much energy to a project.”
With the help of more than 400 volunteers, David’s vision has enabled them to build features including an outdoor composting toilet and a high sensory area where pupils can cook food on a camp fire and bird watching screens.
They are all linked by a wheelchair-friendly path.
Work continues on a waterproof round house and the ‘glade of tranquillity’ where the children can relax.
David said: “It’s not just a play thing. It’s a for the children’s education.
“One teacher did a Midsummer Night’s Dream and set it here.
“They have done numeracy where they estimated the number of each tree (species) and drew up pie charts.
“Instead of counting in the classroom, I taught them the tree identification.”
He added: “Everything works together for the better of the environment and people. We are trying to include as many people as possible. It’s for the benefit of the children, but nothing is done which is ecologically bad.”
Last year they recreated the Fire of London after learning about it in the classroom.
After building cardboard Tudor and Stuart houses, they brought them outside where David first set light to the bakery and they watched the fire spread as it did in 1066.
Bilal said: “Outside classrooms are a shared experience. They get to share with David, share with each other and share with teachers things which they would not have in a normal situation. It triggers all the emotions.”
The project has attracted interest from outside the school too.
School principal Hazel Darby said: “The Woodland Project has been huge benefit for all our pupils and students, as well as those of neighbouring schools. As well as being such a good educational resource, they have great fun while learning at the same time.
“It has transformed our curriculum. We are so grateful to David for making it all happen, and to The Friends of Ingfield for covering all the extra costs involved.”
Don Newport, Chairman of The Friends of Ingfield added: “The Woodland Project was the main focus of the money raised at our fete last year. We are so pleased to be able to support such a fun and innovative addition, and we are very happy to congratulate David on this recognition of his marvellous work.”