When The Holmewood School identified a need to actively improve the mental health of its students, it launched a three-year plan, made up of three initiatives that were closely aligned to the needs of its community.
The North London school is for young people with autism, and a survey it carried out showed that 87 per cent of its pupils felt they would do more schoolwork outside in the fresh air. The forest school was born.
Focusing on social and emotional development, all of the students attend a local farm, taking part in activities such as den-building, whittling, growing food and animal care. The school’s therapy dog, William, trained by Autism Life Dogs, helps individual students with their stress and anxiety.
Meanwhile, the whole-school wellbeing programme gives all members of the school community a positive and healthy start to the day, with choices such as yoga and a running club. And Holmewood’s Footprints Life Camp operates during the school holidays, aiming to reduce social exclusion and increase the independence of young autistic people through farming, outdoor education and life skills.
The judges said: “Holmewood really embodies the notion of a ‘whole-school approach’ using a range of really innovative initiatives to support both their staff and pupils.
“It struck us they had acknowledged that all learners have a unique set of needs and had incorporated into school life forms of support which would be valuable for pupils at a range of places within the mental health and fitness spectrum. We particularly loved the acknowledgement of the therapeutic benefits of physical activity and of spending time with animals.”