Surrey Wildlife Trust is celebrating the first year of its rebuilt Nower Wood outdoor learning centre, with record numbers of visitors and a nomination for two coveted building awards.
Since opening on 20th April 2017, the £1.2m flagship learning centre has helped the Trust grow its efforts to educate and inspire people of all ages about wildlife. The building has already served over 10,000 visitors – 3000 more annual visitors than before the rebuild.
The Trust is proud to announce that the new building has also been shortlisted for Best Public Service Building and Best Educational Building in the ‘South East LABC Building Excellence Awards 2018’.
The Trust’s Outdoor Learning Manager, Louise Shorthose, said: “The woods and the centre really do have a wow factor now as you arrive on site and walk up the steps. It’s really reinvigorated the feeling at our educational nature reserve.
“The new facilities have enabled us to remain open for educational activities all year, where previously the outdoor toilets froze in the winter. We have, for the first time, been able to host a broad range of winter events including a Christmas themed schools programme and adult learning courses.”
The modern facilities replaced out-dated, leaking wooden huts from the 1970s and are much more accessible for those with special educational needs and disabilities. There have been 125 school visits and 55 adult learning courses throughout the year – the centre has even hosted 60 birthday parties!
Construction of the new facilities was made possible by generous donations from Trust members, businesses, and the public, on top of a £360,000 Heritage Lottery Fund. The building was opened by HRH The Countess of Wessex GCVO and is equipped with cutting-edge teaching technology like video microscopes and interactive screens. The centre’s design includes various features to minimise its environmental impact, such as cladding made of locally sourced, sustainable timber; solar panels on the roof; and a biomass boiler that uses recycled wood pellets.
During construction, species such as newts and reptiles were captured and moved to a safe location away from the building site and topsoil containing a woodland seedbank and bluebells was removed to be stored while works were carried out.
The replanted beds are now thriving, maintained by staff and volunteers, including a regular group from The Grange centre for people with disabilities. 120 plant species were identified at the last survey of the bank, while a new raised, wheelchair-accessible pond has already been host to newts, mallards, and mandarin ducks.
Louise added: “One of my favourite moments this year was walking outside and seeing a group of children and young adults with disabilities and special needs setting off to the pond; a team from The Grange helping on the ‘beds’ around the centre; and a group of volunteers heading out into the woods with our dormouse expert to check on the dormouse boxes. It’s a real hive of wonderful activity and it would be lovely for more to come enjoy it!”
Nower Wood education centre is nestled in over 80 acres of ancient woodland near Leatherhead. The centre takes bookings for school groups, adult learning courses, birthday parties, and corporate events. To find out more and to book your session, visit: surreywildlifetrust.org