If you go down to the woods ...

The Secret Garden Outdoor Nursery, in the woods to the rear of Letham Primary School,  is marking its 10th anniversary. (Photo by George McLuskie).
The Secret Garden Outdoor Nursery, in the woods to the rear of Letham Primary School, is marking its 10th anniversary. (Photo by George McLuskie).

A ground-breaking outdoor nursery based in the woods near Letham is set to mark its 10th anniversary with a celebration that will also benefit charity.

The Secret Garden, founded by former drama teacher Cathy Bache, has been hailed as one of Fife’s greatest social enterprise successes of the past decade.

Operating in a 25-acre woodland north of the village, it offers explorative full-time outdoor play four-and-half days a week, for 49 weeks of the year, to pre-school children.

And next Saturday, September 27, staff and parents will be joined by members of the local community for a fun-packed day of activities, with all profits from the home-baking and other stalls going to Cupar Foodbank and Breakdance Project Uganda, formed in 2006 to help young disadvantaged people.

The event will take place between 2.00 p.m. and 7.00 p.m.in Letham West Woods and includes food, stories, craft, music and adventures.

Special guest will be Steve Sharpe of Drumfun, who’s a renowned expert in African drumming.

“We’d especially like to see former ‘Secret Gardeners’ there,” said administration and finance manager Orla Beaton.

“So if your child came to the nursery at any time during the past 10 years head along on the 27th!”

Now employing six permanent staff and a number of volunteers, the Secret Garden currently has a roll of around 60 children who attend for sessions ranging from four hours to three days a week.

Cathy Bache founded the nursery initially as a child-minding facility, opening its ‘invisible doors’ full-time in 2008.

That year, the Secret garden won the Nancy Ovens Award for ‘Outstanding Contribution to Play’ and ‘Best Practice in Action’.

Cathy has also spent six weeks in the USA after winning a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, enabling her to further explore the role of the adult in creating stimulating and creative learning environments for children.

The youngsters spend all their time in the woods, taking shelter in eco-friendly tarps and yurts - that can also be used by the local community - when it’s absolutely necessary.

They have no toys, but learn through the natural environment around them.

In 2010, the nursery hit the headlines when it was faced with an uncertain future amid concerns by the Care Commission about its lack of hand-washing facilities.

Eventually however the regulator agreed that it was impractical to take soap and water into the woods and announced that the gels and antiseptic wipes used by the children were acceptable after all.

Two years later, the Secret Garden was hailed as a shining example by school inspectors, who described the pre-school youngsters as ‘motivated, confident, resilient and joyful learners.’

They said that the children relished weather and seasonal changes and that they showed a great deal of respect for living things. They enjoyed being creative and using their imagination to tell stories, explore and discover new things in the forest.