The London Parks Discovery Project has now been running for four and a half years, and this spring is a good time both to look backwards at its achievements, and forwards to its future.
The Project was set up in 2003, with a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. In the Development Phase, a pilot educational website for Key Stage Two children and their teachers was created. This covered four boroughs in London (Wandsworth, Newham, Enfield and Greenwich), and used a simplified version of the Inventory created by Sally Williams, with the addition of extra images and maps to give it a greater visual appeal. The activities from the existing LPGT Education Pack were revised so that they were more challenging and linked closely to the requirements of the National Curriculum.
In 2005, the Project won an Archives Landmark Award from the London Metropolitan Archives "In recognition of their work in developing an extended and enriched humanities curriculum through the imaginative and creative use of archive collections".
Since June 2004, the Project has been in its delivery phase. The first year of this was funded from the HLF grant. When this ended, a successful application was made to the City Bridges Trust, who generously agreed to fund the Project for a further three years ending in March 2009.
During this phase, we have provided a free service to primary schools in all four boroughs, helping them to make the best use of the website, and to maximize their use of and benefit from their local parks and open spaces. This has been achieved by running INSET meetings for teachers, and outings and classroom sessions for children, and by sending a termly newsletter to every single school in the boroughs.
Until the summer of 2005, Deborah Jarman undertook all the school visits in all four boroughs herself, but since then they have been undertaken by three excellent outreach workers - Janet, Rich, and Lesley.
During the City Bridges Trust funding period, the target has been to increase the number of participating schools by ten a year to a maximum of 50 by 2009. This target has been exceeded at each stage, showing that there is a real demand for the project's services.
Ongoing evaluation amongst teachers and pupils show a very high degree of satisfaction; for example 89.5% of teachers said that they would recommend the web site to colleagues. One teacher commented "I particularly liked the fact that we followed the topic of the day, and produced a variety of work in writing, listening and speaking, art, practical science, and maths." Another said: "...There is a good variety of information on the website to provide the children with various activities to do. We used it last year with much success. I also feel strongly that having someone come to guide the sessions makes it all the more exciting for the children."
Since its inception, the project has proved that there is a real appetite in London schools for support in using the outdoor environment. The work that we do not only meets local needs; it addresses many of the government's initiatives such as the Learning Outside the Classroom Manifesto, and combating obesity by encouraging children to be more active.
We are now working to build on our success by exploring different ways in which the project can not only continue after 2009, but also expand to other equally needy parts of London.