“What I find important about Dacres Wood is that we care for each other and we care for the natural habitat that we’re using.”
Zoe, Age 9
Who we are
At Free We Grow, we believe that the world is a fascinating place, and that if children and adults spend time in nature, within communities, in a supportive and trusting environment, they will grow to care for each other and the world around them.
“I like Free We Grow because it makes me happy and I like playing with all of the kids. I love Free We Grow.”
Lennox Hamilton, Age 6
Free We Grow is a community for children based in Dacres Wood Nature reserve in South London. It was founded in 2017 by parents and environmental educators to offer home educated children between the ages of 5-11 years old, a play- and consent-based learning environment.
Over the past 6 years, we have adapted our space and welcomed many families, communities and facilitators who have formed what we are today.
Free We Grow also supports the Friends of Dacres Wood and Lewisham Council to open Dacres Wood to the public more regularly with a range of activities and offerings including pond dipping, story telling, crafts, nature observation, and simply being in the woods.
Free We Grow is committed to sharing its practice. We do this by contributing to research, running free public events and workshops, study groups, book clubs, helping to host Nature Play sessions, taking part in the Freedom to Learn Forum, and most recently, organising a Giftival. A celebration and showcase of our community’s gifts, with a month long of free public events.
“Free We Grow was the space for my child to grow free, it was the space where he could find himself and find a community and discover more about the others around us, and in the middle of London! We were so lucky to find that this project exists.”
Sara Martins, Parent & Holding Team Member
People choose to home educate for a variety of reasons, and home educating families form a heterogenous group. Families may choose to home educate for philosophical and ideological reasons, because their child is unhappy at school, or because of a sense that their child’s special needs are not met at school. Mostly when valuing happiness and wellbeing, many feel like it’s not much of a choice.
“Free We Grow - we were so lucky - it came when we really needed it. My son had just started refusing to go to school. He was diagnosed as dyslexic and all the support was gradually stripped away in the primary school due to budget cuts basically and austerity, and I think things are even worse now sadly, and he became very distressed and not happy there. So we decided that yes, he could stop going, and home-ed was quite a lonely and bewildering experience for him and me. We just weren’t in the right headspace and he was quite damaged and reeling from his experience of school, but also missing all his friends. So it was a difficult time to try and home educate. And then FWG emerged on my radar, and it was such an amazing gift. It completely opened my eyes to what education could be. It was like a total paradigm shift and I thought, wow, education can be this. It can be happy children, it can be children outside all day, it can be muddy children, children gazing at minibeasts and plants and flowers for hours and hours in the way that only children can, you kind of lose that capacity as adults, and Rowan kind of reassured us all that this can be education, this can be learning through life.”
Rosie Thwaites, Parent
There are over 85,000 families in the UK currently home educating. The UK has a large and rapidly growing home education community and Free We Grow is a unique space that meets the needs of diverse families in South London.
Childhood is a special time, and we provide our children with the freedom to learn. We believe that children need much more access to nature, in the wild world, for their own wellbeing and for the wellbeing of the world.
We strongly believe that safe and trusting environments are essential for children, and over the years, Free We Grow has proved to be a space that promotes healthy mental wellbeing, provides stability for home educating families in terms of consistency in relationships and actively nurtures and supports child development in a diverse environment.
As well as supporting access to our learning community, Free We Grow is committed to enabling access to Dacres Wood Nature Reserve to communities who may struggle to access natural and wild spaces, for a variety of complex reasons. There is a clear discrepancy in access to nature between more wealthy middle class families and people living in more deprived areas. According to research conducted by the Countryside Charity children from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (identification used in original research) backgrounds are half as likely to visit the countryside than White children.
With only 1% of marginalised groups living in rural areas, taking every step possible to broaden access to wild places within the city is key.
The benefits of access to nature are well documented and span mental health, wellbeing, creativity, community cohesion, learning, care for place. increasing your happiness and improving your mood. There is also strong research that being involved as citizen scientists and in nature observation encourages pro-nature behaviour in the long run. The British Science Association asserts that equality of access to natural spaces is essential for a more eco-friendly future.
Why we are crowdfunding
“My son absolutely thrives here. I think because he’s taken seriously and because of the time in nature that he wouldn’t otherwise get quite as much of, and because it’s a stable group, and there’s clearly a lot of thought that goes into maintaining the group’s stability. Adults and children arrive and leave slowly, with notice, and when they’ve left, they stay in touch and they come back to visit. It’s really amazing.”
Anna Hillier, Parent and Holding Team Member
Since opening in 2017, Free We Grow has been committed to ensuring that its space is accessible to any family regardless of financial means. We believe that money should not be a barrier to access. Careful budgeting and contributions from families with greater access to wealth historically allowed FWG to offer discounts on fees to families that may have needed the financial support from time to time.
However over the last year, more of our families than anticipated have needed financial support to help cover their fees and our community fund has been depleted. Denying children access to our project for this reason alone is a decision we are determined not to ever have to make, which is why we are reaching out to our wider networks for financial support.
The money raised through this Crowdfunder will ensure families affected can continue to access Free We Grow for the whole of the academic year 2023/24.
Alongside this Crowdfunder campaign, and to ensure long term accessibility & sustainability of the project, Free We Grow has a team focussing on diversifying its income generation (via grants, events & services) to build up and maintain a healthy community fund for other families that may need it in the future.
How we will spend the money raised and how the local community will benefit
The money raised will go towards Free We Grow’s Community Fund, so we can maintain our promise for inclusion and for the project to continue to be accessible to any family regardless of financial means. The funds raised will be allocated towards covering Free We Grow’s core costs, thus enabling the current community of children and families to remain stable for the year 2023/2024.
We are aiming to raise £15,180 through this Crowdfunder. This is the equivalent of three fully funded places or several subsidised places.
Your donations will ensure that families who currently do not have access to finances to pay their fees, can continue to send their children to Free We Grow.
In the spirit of gift, the Free We Grow Community commits to supporting Lewisham Council and the Friends of Dacres Wood to continue to open up Dacres Wood regularly to the public and to increase the number of open days so that the local community can more easily access the nature reserve on their doorstep.
We will also host a series of events during the year to share practice and support more people, enjoy free play and nature connection and learn about progressive educational practice.