The other day I saw a news report that in the UK there is a staggeringly large waiting list of 51,000 children who want to join Scouting groups across the country – you can read that article here. This one fact alone shows how much demand there is currently for regular outdoor activity sessions for children. Alongside this huge demand, I think there’s an equally growing groundswell movement of outdoor education, not only in the UK but in America too. It seems that everywhere there are initiatives, community schemes and small businesses springing up to offer children (and adults for that matter) quality wild time experiences.
Here at Woodland Classroom we’re one of many growing outdoor education service providers across the country and it’s great to be part of such a thriving community. Like so many others, our business is growing and new opportunities to get kids outdoors are coming to us all the time. We wanted to tell the story of another fellow outdoor educator, who only last year started out on his journey to create his own outdoor education company. It’s also the story of how we were able to help him set up his new forest school and outdoor education enterprise.
Meet James Dunlop. He is the recent founder of Wild Thyme Outdoors in Essex, England. Wild Thyme Outdoors aims to create exciting adventures for people of all ages; joining them in British woodland and the wider great outdoors! They are currently delivering; Forest School programs for school, youth and charity groups, also woodland adventure birthday parties for all ages. They have the privilege of unrestricted and sole access to several beautiful patches woodland which they use and care for to run their wildly exciting programs.
I think it’s the passion of the people running outdoor education today that is really key to it’s increasing popularity. Activity Leaders like James are all so passionate about their subject matters, about engaging people of all ages in nature whether it’s forest school, woodland kindergarten, Scouts & Guides, summer camp, or any of the many forms outdoor education can take. It’s the old tale of the teacher who inspired a child to ignite their own spark for learning about nature and enjoying quality time outdoors. I take my hat off to all outdoor activity leaders (especially all you volunteers) who are passing their enthusiasm on to the next generation.
We sat down with James to here the tale behind Wild Thyme Outdoors and what inspired him to go it alone and become a part of the growing outdoor education scene. We’re happy to say that we were able to play a part in his success story too.
LW (Lea Wakeman) Hi James. Thanks for talking with us. Can you tell me why you wanted to set up an outdoor education business?
JD (James Dunlop) “It’s just part of who I am. Outdoor education is an expression of me as a person, an unapologetic nature geek with a fiery passion for working with children. They are so much smarter than we are, so much more aware! I learn so much just teaching young ones. There is however, an upsetting lack (in my honest opinion) of outdoor provision for young and old alike. We treat nature as if it is something totally separate to ourselves, even the word nature, a label, is a separation of ourselves from all that it encompasses, what many don’t realise is we are nature too! I want to set up a outdoor education business to give people the opportunity to realise, we are not separate from the natural world, nor should we be afraid of it.”
LW I couldn’t agree more. Tell me about your background and how did you get to this point in your career?
JD “As a little one I grew up in a suburban part of Wales not too far from Newport. It was a time before PlayStation and iPads, my favourite ‘toy’ was a pair of buckskin trousers and a waist coat that my parents had bought back from a business trip to America. I would wear these continuously always wanting to be the Indian in a game of Cowboys & Indians. I have no idea where this fascination with the indigenous people of America came from, but it still hasn’t left me to this day!”
“Long story short, I joined John Ryder of the Woodcraft School for a week as a 16th birthday present, joined the cadets, attended the Army foundation college and post military found myself at Shuttleworth College studying Outdoor Education.”
“My first outdoor education job was with Stubbers Adventure Centre in Essex where I live. Stubbers gave me the opportunity to grow as a teacher/instructor but also a canvas to develop my understanding and knowledge of the the natural world and primitive skills. I was given charge and free reign of their Bushcraft Activity Week.”
“After 6 years I entered the fitness industry. But even here my passion for all things outdoors and nature based followed me. I discovered the world of ‘natural movement’ and soon became adept and qualified to teach what is now coined ‘primitive movement patterns.’ The itch to get back to working outdoors grew and grew and before long I was in a position where I either did something about it or moved away from it altogether.”
“Enter an amazing influence! Woodland Classroom pops up on my facebook newsfeed, before I’d finished my coffee I had read, watched and consumed everything James & Lea had on social media and their website, now a YouTube search on Forest School lead me to even more! I was hooked! This was it! The answer to everything I had learnt over the last 10 years, the cure for the itch!”
“So here I am now! Standing on the edge of a woodland with my big idea; Wild Thyme Outdoors – forest school, nature nursery and woodland skills.”
LW Setting up your own woodland activity school is a big leap. What’s your vision for your business in 3 years time?
JD “In 3 years time, I would like to have multiple locations running forest schools and nature nurseries for various age groups and a committed and visionary team of individuals helping me deliver some of the best nature immersion and outdoor education training in the South-East.”
LW We first met after you contacted us about our online Mentoring scheme for forest school leaders and outdoor educators. How was your experience with the mentoring session? What did you get out of it?
JD “I’ve never had a mentoring session before, though I do recognise the power of mentorship. For months I was saying to my peers that I needed some kind of business mentor or just a personal mentor of some description. Needless to say when I saw that you offered forest school specific mentoring It ticked many boxes for me. I could have a conversation with someone who was already further down the path so I could get answers to many of my questions and also finally have that mentor, that person that I could be held accountable to.”
“You were both super open and honest about how you structure your business and what pitfalls and hurdles you came across that I should keep an eye out for. This greatly reduces my learning curve and speeds up all the boring admin bits that I hate doing. More importantly you enquired about what I had done and intended to do before I started offering forest school programmes, highlighting things that I was wasting time on and where my focus really should be.”
LW What was the one most useful piece of advice that came out of the Mentoring session?
JD “To just get on with it! I spend so much time making sure that every possible angle has been covered that it would be 2018 before I was even in the position to start. I’d say to anyone reading this, that if this is what you want, stop fretting and get a move on. Start small, run a few pilot days for friends and family (which is exactly what I did) and tell as many people as you can about what you’re doing. Before the month was out I had countless people asking me for more details and two schools interested in developing a relationship with Wild Thyme!”
LW What was the main benefit of having the Mentoring session to you? What did it enable you to do?
JD “I think the main benefit was to create clarity for me to begin, both you and James were able to put my mind at ease about so many things, and point me on the path that I needed to be on. Whilst I’m all about creating your own journey it can be a massive help to be shown parts of the journey by those who have done it.”
LW What successes have you had with the business since the Mentoring session?
JD “Since we last spoke; we have registered the business so it’s official, we have booked our level 3 Forest School Leaders training and we have a queue for birthday parties! We have also explored the realm of opening the Forest School up as a day care/nursery 3 days a week which has been met with great interest. Our website is being constructed and we have graphic designer working on the brand designs and associated media. Through several connections we have 3 schools interested in our Forest Schools program. It’s all Go! Go! Go!”
LW Thanks for speaking with us James, and best of luck for the future. I know we will keep in touch.
You can find out more about our online Mentoring scheme by following the link below.
It’s an exciting time to be involved in outdoor education and if you think we could help you like we’ve helped James and so many others, then don’t hesitate to get in touch.
You can find out more about Wild Thyme Outdoors and follow James’ continuing adventures by visiting his website RIGHT HERE.