The high birks
The High Birks, located in the Duddon Valley, is near the tiny village of Seathwaite in the southern part of the Lake District. It is an old working farmhouse dating back many years that enjoys idyllic peace and seclusion coupled with magnificent views and outstanding walking and hiking opportunities directly from the doorstep.
The property was owned by the Forestry Commission and occupied by a tenant farmer until the late 1950s-1960s. It was first rented by The Grove School in 1967 and utilised as a field studies and “outward bound” centre until 1985. A that time, the Forestry Commission decided that they wished to sell the property rather than renew the lease.
The Birks proved to be such an outstanding asset for the school that in 1985 the PTA took up the opportunity offered to them by the Forestry Commission to purchase the freehold of the property at an advantageous price that reflected the significant improvements that the school had carried out whilst holding the tenancy.
COver the early years of the school’s involvements with The Birks, hundreds of pupils and many members of staff had gained significant benefits from spending a week or so there. These benefits included not only academic opportunities provided by The Birks’ location, but also, and perhaps even more importantly, an opportunity to develop social skills, learn to work as part of a team and establish new friendships.
For many of the pupils, a trip to The Birks was their first stay away from home and it was clear that “The Birks experience” helped to develop a very positive working relationship between the pupils and members of staff who led the residential groups – a significant benefit that lasted for the remainder of the pupils’ time at The Grove School.
Having resolved to purchase the property, the school’s PTA managed to raise the agreed price of £35,000, mainly from people who had experienced the benefits that the school had gained from having the Birks. The fundraising was so successful that a small surplus was generated above the asking price, which was used to carry out some larger scale improvements.
These major improvements were carried out by local professional builders. In contrast, almost all the other essential but more routine maintenance and improvement projects over the 40 years of the school’s improvement with The Birks have always been carried out by informal “working parties” made up of members of staff and other “Friends of The Birks”. These generous people, with a huge range of practical skills and abilities, have donated many weeks of their free time to looking after the property and doing their best to ensure it is in a suitable condition for school groups to use.
To keep The Birks in working order, continuous improvements are needed, and The Birks Committee would like to thank all of our dedicated volunteers and donators for their contribution – The Birks wouldn’t be possible without you.