Bushtucker training... for life

THE ancient art of bushcraft is giving youngsters in North Somerset a new lease of life, and earning an environment centre nationwide praise for its most unique venture yet. The country's first Bushcraft Academy has been created and trademarked at Goblin

THE ancient art of bushcraft is giving youngsters in North Somerset a new lease of life, and earning an environment centre nationwide praise for its most unique venture yet.The country's first Bushcraft Academy has been created and trademarked at Goblin Combe Environmental Centre in Cleeve and has been helping give teenagers who struggle to adapt to life in the classroom a start in life.The massive effect the courses have had on the personal development and behaviour on pupils from schools such as Broadoak and Priory has sparked interest across the country and almost all schools in the district want to send their children on the Ray Mears-style courses.The centre hopes the bushcraft lessons, which teach pupils how to survive on their wits in the outdoors, could be available to all students in the district and eventually franchised across Britain.Goblin Combe's Matt Evans is the pioneer behind the initiative and says the changes he has seen in his pupils' attitude is nothing less than astonishing. Matt first started teaching bushcraft at the Rathbone Trust, a school in Weston for children with learning difficulties, and brought his ideas with him when he joined Goblin Combe, which is a charitable trust.The bushcraft courses, set in a huge woodland near the centre, can involve almost anything to do with surviving in the outdoors. One of the staples of bushcraft is firelighting techniques, and Matt has trained teenagers to carefully cultivate a fire to cook over. The same youngsters may have, in the past, spent their time setting fire to garden sheds, but Matt says learning a new respect for the power of fire and creating boundaries and can turn their lives around.He said: "So far we have worked with disaffected kids that cannot deal with society like it is. Some of them can't handle being in a classroom and need to get out."We take them right back to the beginning with bushcraft. We give them a blank canvas. They are in the woods and they don't have anything. In some cases we just let them play, take them back to being kids and give them new boundaries."Matt proudly calls the woodland his 'office'. In it is a makeshift kitchen his pupils have created. A bin buried underneath the mud forms an oven which the students have been using to cook apple pies with apples they found in the woods.They eat with spoons and bowls carved from fallen branches they found in the forest, using tools they would have previously only considered good enough for 'protection'.Matt said: "One student once handed me his flick knife and told me to keep it. He said he realised the damage it could do and didn't need it for protection anymore. I think I fell over. Nobody runs anything like this, it's ground-breaking stuff. We don't shy away from anything, whatever they need to do to survive."Another element is the woodland management. These kids have been helping preserve the wood for future generations by getting rid of rubbish and planting young trees using stakes they made from the trees which don't belong. It's all sustainable.

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