Celebrating 30 years of outdoor learning
A Somerset outdoor activity centre which attracts children and adults from across the UK is celebrating its 30th anniversary this summer.
Mill on the Brue, in Bruton, is a not-for-profit educational organisation, run by Tricia Rawlingson Plant and her son Matt.
Tricia and her husband Tony set up the centre in 1982, when Tony left the army and they moved to Somerset from the Outer Hebrides.
“We had three young children of our own and we all loved the outdoors, so we decided to start running summer activity camps for children,” says Tricia. “We were one of just a handful of activity centres back then and we worked incredibly hard and took a lot of risks to get it off the ground.
“When we started out it was just the two of us, and we only opened during the summer holidays. Today we’re open all year round and we employ 15 people, rising to 50 during the summer.”
Tricia and Matt are organising a reunion in September for the staff who have worked with them over the years, as well as some customers, including teachers from schools who have been visiting Mill on the Brue since the early days.
“We want to get everyone together for a big party. We really feel that we have something to celebrate and we want to say thank-you to everyone who has supported us,” says Tricia.
Sadly Tony died in 2009, but his spirit lives on in the centre and, with Matt working there since 2004, it remains very much a family affair.
“We’re a small family business with strong values and this is something the schools that come here really appreciate,” says Matt. “We believe it’s vital for children’s development to do things outside the classroom. They learn so much through fun and adventure. We see real changes in children over the period of a few days, their confidence grows and they develop deep friendships.
“We have children coming from London and the Home Counties, as well as lots from the South West including Bristol and Bath. City children in particular love the freedom that Mill on the Brue offers.”
Everything at Mill on the Brue, including the land, the food and the buildings, is built around strong environmental principles and this has been recognised by numerous awards over the years. Matt explains: “Caring for the environment has been a fundamental part of what we do from the very beginning, and it’s something that every child who comes here learns about and appreciates.”
Tricia admits, however, that things have changed a lot over the last 30 years: “There’s no doubt that children have changed. They have so much more choice now; they travel far more and are much more confident in talking about a huge range of subjects and they’re much more multicultural.
“Unfortunately children are also definitely less fit. Activities they could all do 30 years ago they struggle with now, such as long hikes. They’re just not used to walking.
“I also think parents have a tendency to be over-protective these days and are passing their fears on to children. Many children are scared of heights when they get here – most of them get over it during their time with us they see this as a major achievement.”
Notes to editors:
Mill on the Brue is open all year round and offers activity days, residential outdoor education trips to schools and teambuilding and management training to companies and organisations, as well as summer camps for children.
The centre was developed on land previously run as a nine-hole golf course in a steep-sided valley divided by the River Brue. Working with a local farming family up to 1991, the Rawlingson Plant family created a country idyll – part playground, part assault-course, part natural habitat, kitchen-garden and vineyard.
· Western Gazette Somerset Business Award (Environmentally Friendly), 2012
· Gold in the National Green Apple Awards
· Gold Green Tourism Business Scheme 2011 & 2007
· Somerset Business Award for Sustainability (2011)
· South West Regional Winner – UK Chamber of Commerce Green Award Category (2010)
Rainwater is stored in recycled fruit-juice barrels for use in gardening. A rolling programme of tree planting has created shelter-belts and reinstated hedgerows previously ripped out by the golf-course constructors. More than 5,500 trees of 102 varieties – most of them, native – have been planted, along with willow-beds to provide withies for living sculptures and flower-frames.
A slope so steep it had been ignored in previous incarnations was planted with 360 vines in 1998 and is now in its fourteenth year of profitable wine production. Typically, the prunings are recycled for charcoal, while wood has made MOTB self-sufficient in supplementary heating, fencing, barbecues and decorative work – including nesting-boxes which have multiplied the bird population to 89 different species.
Sheep “cut” the lawns. Pigs are deployed to dig over fresh land – so successfully that the newly extended kitchen-garden supplies almost all vegetable requirements organically. Meanwhile, hens fertilise old garden plots, and a wormery situated in a recycled freezer, together with pony muck, provides the catalyst for composting all kitchen waste and grass cuttings as in kitchen gardens of old. The estate has planted a veritable UN salad bed with cuttings from around the world – rocket from France, mizuna from Japan and so on.
Nothing new is bought if something old or second-hand can be redeployed. The greenhouses and Applestore (a straw bale roundhouse) are cases in point. The Builder’s Yard contains not one single “new” pallet, barrel, fencing-post, roofing-sheet or piece of wire or rope.
The Applestore is the centre for Mill on the Brue’s green practices and conservation. Mill on the Brue encourages environmental awareness and gives visitors, particularly children, a chance to understand nature. Children who think that eggs, milk, cheese and vegetables come pre-packaged from a supermarket leave with new found enthusiasm for eco-living. Not only that: they return home determined to educate their parents, which means that every lesson has two audiences.
The centre’s award-winning Longhouse is a sustainably-built social and conference centre. It can seat up to 140 people and is a popular venue for weddings and conferences.
The roof is made from recycled rubber tyre slates (2,000 of which were cut by hand for the curve at the west end). Sheep’s wool and recycled newspaper were used for insulation, the underfloor heating is geothermal, all the hot water is heated by solar thermal and rainwater is harvested for the loos. The building was designed by a Bruton architect, built by local builders and the cedar for the walls and floors was grown four miles from Bruton.
A 49kw solar photovoltaic ground mounted array was put up this year, taking Mill on the Brue a step closer to becoming self-sufficient.