For many Bedales alumni, a walk through our Outdoor Work (ODW) area often triggers memories of their own time toiling away at the subject. From pruning bramble bushes to baking bread, the unique and diverse options offered by Outdoor Work have provided many memorable educational experiences.
We are very proud of ODW and the legacy we’ve been handed. Today we work hard to honour and continue the endeavours of the many hundreds of staff and students who have contributed to the department over the years. And we hope that our current students will carry the same affection and happy memories of the subject that many alumni share, when they become Old Bedalians themselves.
Bread baking isn’t the only tradition that is thriving. Students continue to work on the forge made by former students, and turn out an impressive range of goods, including candle-sticks and a fire-pit, which will be placed down by the lake – an area receiving the full ODW treatment. A new oak-framed bridge was recently completed for access to the site, overseen by Gabriel Langlands. A former student and now timber framing expert, Gabriel runs the sixth form timber framing enrichment course, which is in the process of extending the Bakehouse and building a barn to be used as a teaching space.
One of our most visible new projects is a hexagonal observation hut that students are currently building. It’s located just around the corner from the timber-framed Sotherington Barn, which students helped move piece by piece to the school in the 1980s. The new structure will allow us to keep a closer watch on our bees, so students can really get to know these fascinating creatures better. On the opposite side of the estate, down by the Black Barn, another starter project continues to gather momentum. Thanks to the generosity of the Bedales Parents’ Association (BPA), we have been able to buy an incubator for chicken breeding. Our first batch of chicks were born at Easter and quickly turned into beautiful, not to mention, noisy youngsters. Five more chicks were born recently and we hope this year will bring us many more.
The farm at Bedales continues to develop too. We’re increasing our flock of Jacob sheep – the current herd stands at 60. Adding to this number is a visiting ram, whose presence should result in many more sheep next spring. Our new farm assistant, Ed Mitchell, has fantastic experience with cattle, so we may well make some more additions to the farm in the not-so-distant future.
Last year, three students built a pig house to serve as a centre for Bedales pork. We introduced a couple of Oxford Sandy and Black pigs to the school and now have a total of 35. We rear the pigs for sausage making and butchery and also sell them as weaners to parents. The aim of this is to remove the ‘cling-film’ from farming – introducing the children to the process of rearing animals for meat and making the concept of farm-to-fork a very real, hands-on experience.
Speaking of commercial opportunities, students are converting a barn by the Bakehouse into a farm shop. One exciting new product range we can expect to see on the shelves will be home-made soaps and lip balms, made using herbs and produce from the estate. We have also recently begun selling sheepskin rugs from our Jacob sheep, as well as blankets made from their wool, processed for us by a mill in rural Wales.
We also have a visiting Blacksmith, Lucille Scott of Little Duck Forge, who comes in one day a week, offering students and staff the opportunity to get to grips with the ancient art of blacksmithing.
Thanks to ODW teacher and food specialist Feline Charpentier, our edible range of products continues to expand. Apple and tomato chutney, pickled rainbow beets, poached pears in elderflower champagne, elderberry cordial, hay cordial, hay salt, jam, hedgerow jelly using crab apples and hawthorn berries, and plum compote are just a few of the delicacies on offer. And of course, we still have the much loved weekly bread bake, where our more bright-eyed and bushy-tailed students join me at six am every Thursday in the Bakehouse.
The two Year 10 students who helped build our clay pizza oven in the summer have progressed to the next stage in their campaign to become the Domino’s of Steep. They are now making pizzas as part of their Wednesday afternoon activity and selling them to their peers, thus making a valuable contribution to ODW. Because we’re self-funded, all our profits are ploughed back into the farm, just as they have always been.