A farming family have been praised as “invaluable” for helping children in Dorset make a safe return to the classroom.

Stuart and Tessa Casely have been opening up the doors of Gore Farm, in Trent, Sherborne, to pupils whose education has been interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Youngsters at Trent Young’s CE Primary School have benefited from the learning opportunities offered by Gore Farm, which is part of The Ernest Cook Trust educational charity, for years.

But in the past months the farm became more crucial than ever, paving the way for the school to operate again thanks to the efforts of the team at the 400-acre farm.

They have been hosting groups of children several times a week, freeing up space at the school to make social distancing easier – to the delight of the primary.

South West Farmer:

Sherril Atkins, headteacher at Trent Young’s CE Primary School, said: “The help from the Gore Farm Team and The Ernest Cook Trust has been invaluable in helping us deal with the challenges of the last few months, and we are incredibly grateful to them.

“Not only has Gore Farm hosting a group of children each day enabled us to reduce risk by increasing the time the children are outside learning, but the activities have played a huge part in helping children settle back into school, re-establish friendships and reduce anxiety levels.

“Staff and children love going to Gore Farm and the benefits extend beyond the national curriculum. Self-esteem, problem solving, and teambuilding skills are just some of the ways in which our children grow during their visits. Having the opportunity to learn about sustainability, farming and the countryside first-hand is also important.

“Like every school, we’ve had to work really hard to evolve how we teach, and the farm has been key in helping us achieve this.”

The farm is a short safe walk from the school, within the school’s local learning area, so the partnership is within government guidelines.

Children experience every aspect of the working farm, learning where their food comes from and how it is made. The Ernest Cook Trust’s education officer in Trent also helps teachers inspire children with more curriculum-based topics, taught in the great outdoors through wildlife ponds, rivers and woodlands across their wider Trent Estate. Thanks must also go to those other local farming businesses that support learning in the lovely Dorset outdoors.

Stuart Casely, Farmer at Gore Farm, said: “As farmers we’re rooted in this countryside. For years, working with The Ernest Cook Trust to share this understanding with children has been very important to us.

“By welcoming children back onto the farm we’ve helped the school create the space they need as well as continuing adding variety to their learning.

“We’re incredibly proud to have risen to this challenge to safely welcome back Trent Young’s School and maintain this really special aspect of the children’s education.”

Read next: Virtual farm field trips for Devon primary school

The Casely family have been working alongside The Ernest Cook Trust to create outdoor learning opportunities at Gore Farm since 2004.

After pausing at the beginning of lockdown, when schools first closed, they quickly started planning how they could welcome children back as soon as possible.

Stuart and Tessa spotted the opportunity to not only continue their work but to be part of the school’s solution to safely reopen. Working closely with the school, The Ernest Cook Trust and the Caselys carefully designed processes and sessions to enable them to welcome children back safely and help provide a sense of normality.

Dr Victoria Edwards OBE, chief executive of The Ernest Cook Trust, said: "Connecting with nature is more important than ever as we recognise the benefits to physical and mental health.

"Stuart and Tessa have created a really special dynamic in their local community to support children’s wellbeing.

“We, like everybody else during Covid-19, have had to evolve the work we do as a national educational charity. People like Stuart and Tessa have helped find ways to continue our work in learning from the land; educating children in the countryside, outside the classroom.

“We’re very proud of what Stuart and Tessa have been able to achieve in this difficult period.”