HEADTEACHER Alan Woodman, his pupils and teaching assistants are trying to avoid the Mayfield Valley Bog Monster.
“Can you hear it?” he asks the children, some of whom have heard the story before but still appear delighted at the prospect of a Bog Monster waiting to devour their wellingtons.
One of the aims of outdoor education is, of course, fun, says Alan.
But during their morning walking trip, he and his staff from Valley Park primary school also manage to touch on industrial history, comparative geography, maths, literacy, botany, zoology and religious education on their short visit to the Mayfield Environmental Education Centre and surrounding countryside.
The centre, an old Victorian schoolhouse originally serving the rural community of the Mayfield valley, became an environmental centre for Sheffield schools 40 years ago.
“I came here for an induction as most young teachers did in the 1970s, and there was an educational lead here then as well as back-up staff, but slowly that staffing has been whittled away,” says Alan. “Then once the bookings drop, income is not generated and the centre is threatened.”
He and his colleagues noticed earlier this year that Mayfield staff had taken redundancy or shifted to part time work and the centre’s listing disappeared for a while from the city council website.
“The alarm bells were raised, so one or two headteachers and other people who use Mayfield came on board, and we’re now trying desperately to spread the word there is a real threat to Mayfield. We’re saying we want to see a progressive future for the centre.”
A Friends of Mayfield group has been formed, which includes teachers, school heads, members of Sheffield Astronomical Society, who also use the centre, staff from the council’s Thornbridge Outdoors centre and local people who want to keep Mayfield going.
“Many of the older teachers who used to use Mayfield have moved on and it would appear knowledge of Mayfield has not been passed on,” says Tony Booth, a Mayfield Valley resident who is helping the Friends group.
“I’m sure funding is likely to be an issue but the value of the place is incredible. Kids get so much out of coming here, it’s a beautiful area and they can see how things fit in with the environment and why it’s worth saving.”
He notes that the owners of many large local businesses live nearby and hopes some may want to get involved to help children from other parts of the city to keep using the centre. “I often bump into people who say they remember coming up to Mayfield as a child and what good it did them.”
Alan Woodman says the greatest benefit from Mayfield comes when schools visit for several days.
“You get the cumulative effect when you have a working week. One day you’ll have a nice relaxing stroll up the clough, another you might visit Forge Dam or Shepherd Wheel and they’ll see this River Porter plays an important part in the history of Sheffield. But you’ve got to put all those things together for kids to suss it out.”
A week of visits costs the best part of £500, he says, for which a school gets the use of the centre, its classrooms, books, teaching materials and wet weather gear.
School meals can even be shipped in on request. Transport is sometimes an issue but Alan takes the view that schools can get the bus then use the additional walk from Fulwood or Hunters Bar or Ringinglow as part of the learning experience.
One of the problems, he adds, is that although individual school budgets have been increased over recent years, funding for the council’s education services has been reduced. Thus local councils struggle to find funds to keep facilities like Mayfield going, which can only survive if the schools themselves see them as valuable.
Alan says that a well-organised trip to Mayfield will provide half a term’s curriculum work to be developed. “And if that doesn’t justify the cost, I don’t know what does.”
The Valley Park children bounce around, taking photographs, rummaging for leaves, marvelling at the Sheffield countryside a 20-minute minibus trip from school, which some of them have never seen before.
Carrie Roberts from Valley Park says: “This is more real for many children. It’s teaching by different means. You can’t sit all kids in a classroom and expect them all to learn the same way. Schools are missing out if they don’t come here.”
The next meeting of the Friends of Mayfield is Wednesday, November 13 at 4.15 pm. The Friends would like to see an educator back on site to develop and promote the centre, says Alan, adding that if 20 local schools signed up a for a week of visits, it would go a long way towards making that happen.
There are also plenty of other groups who could also make use of the buildings, he adds, following the example of Sheffield Astronomical Society.
The Mayfield message to Sheffield is simple, says Alan Woodman: “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.”
lAlan Woodman, 2396464; Thornbridge Outdoors, 01629 640491