History

The Birks Field Centre is owned by The Grove School Parent Teacher Association (Registered Charity No: 510561)
It is impossible to express fully the importance of The Birks to past and present generation’s fortunate enough, as pupils of The Grove Comprehensive School, to experience all that this wonderful facility offers. It is regrettable that this experience is not available to every child in the land!In 1966 a small group of staff, of which I was a part, visited the almost undiscovered Duddon Valley in Cumbria, to view an empty farmhouse on the slopes of Harter Fell. The house had stood empty for some years, its buildings were becoming derelict, and the Forestry Commission, then its owners were advertising it for rent.The headmaster of the Grove School saw the notice in a national newspaper and at once foresaw its great potential as a facility for the school.The first viewing party was captivated by the stunning beauty of the valley, the remoteness of the house, the silence, the possibilities for group independence and inter dependence, the challenge of the demands of life away from “civilisation and the chance to walk and work in the beautiful area.The group was undaunted by the lack of amenities, though pleased to find that electricity had recently been installed. They were not put out by the prospect of removing the many feet of hard packed dung that was the residue of years of use the buildings (by the local farmer then using the land) as cattle shed.The decision was made to “go for it”. From then on schemes were devised to raise money for the rent and carry out the necessary work before use could begin.

Working parties of staff, VIth form students and friends gave up weekends and holidays to clean and paint, repair, install bunk beds made at school, equip dormitories, kitchen, living room and a collection of waterproof clothing and walking boots was purchased.

Food menus for the week were drawn up, the delivery of supplies from the nearest village was negotiated, a milk supply from a farm in the valley was arranged, people learned how to cope with the temperamental Rayburn cooker and water heater, contracts were arranged with a Market Drayton bus company and soon the first group of children was able to try living away from home, sharing cooking and cleaning, helping each other, undertaking demanding walks and entertaining each other in the evenings, with no regrets at the absence of television. All came back to school as different people.

 

 

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The Present
Today there are people who remember what the Birks meant to them as children and are eager for their children to have the same experience. When I, long retired, stay with friends we made in the valley over the years, I am almost certain to meet a walker in the pub who reminds me that he was Grove pupil and still visits the valley he fell in live with on a school visit to the Birks.
The valley residents, at first uneasy at the prospect of the Birks being given over to large groups of children soon were impressed by their obvious love of the valley and their respect for the people living there. They are now regarded as a lively asset to the area. All speak with admiration for the way in which the house has been restored and renovated and is used in the way compatible with local lifestyles.

Moving On
The achievement of presenting the Birks as a centre with comfortable facilities while still only tenants was enormous. Constant hard work to raise the necessary funds and the dedicated weekend work of staff and parents and friends poling their energy and skills made this possible.
When, in 1985, the Forestry Commission decided to sell the property it threatened the end of a place that had come to be seen as a vital centre for field studies, Duke of Edinburgh Award work, social skills development and experience in self – sufficiency and good budgeting and dietary skills. It would be the end of the brilliant work of art groups; no longer would the school orchestra work there and give concerts in the area in aid of Mountain Rescue groups.
Once again a momentous decision was taken. Work began to involve the whole community in raising the money to buy the Birks. Much hard work and imagination achieved the seemingly impossible. The school became owners of their special place with a sum left over to continue its improvements.
For a school to own such a unique facility and to use it to its full potential is rare indeed. Any conversation with past pupils always ends in fond reminiscence about their time spent there.
Inevitably the time had to come when vastly more expensive work would be required, beyond the capability of the school to raise without assistance.
The present committee has plans as important and far-seeing as those of those of the headmaster who first envisioned the Birks, possibilities and was so enthusiastically supported in the vision. Inevitably, too, they will have to seek outside help in the form of grants. Schools are heavily engaged in fund raising for so many other purposes today, but the Birks is a vital life force within the school and community and deserves every possible support.
I hope the rare achievement and effort of the school and its supporters in maintaining the dream that began over forty years ago will be recognised and any application for aid will be rewarded.

Jean Gregory
The Birks is operated for the benefit of the Grove School students