On the morning of June 13th, year 5 and 6 set off on their way to Swattenden for their end of year residential. Swattenden, which is near Cranbrook, is run by Kent Outdoor Education. The centre hosts groups of children from across the country (and even some from continental Europe) for residential and day trips. Swattenden House (the mansion on site) was built in 1860. The centre was previously the site of Swattenden Secondary School for Boys, which moved to Angley School (now The High Weald Academy) in 1972. It then became the “Swattenden Centre” in 1976, occupying a 27 acre site.
Our lead instructor (Karl) met us off the coach and escorted us to our accommodation. We were placed in the old stables – thankfully refurbished with all mod-cons – and the children were arranged into groups of two or three. The children were a bit shocked to learn that they would be making their own beds, and many learnt a useful life skill which they could well put to use at home! Once bags were dropped off, it was time for lunch, catered for by the excellent on-site kitchen staff. Children enjoyed a good meal of pasta, salads and banana sponge for dessert before heading off for their first activity.
While Mr Shilling and Mr Stanley’s group were kitted out with buoyancy aids, Mrs Sharp’s group made their way to the low assault course, where they tackled tyre challenges, tunnels, climbing walls, tarzan swings and scramble nets. Some very dirty knees and elbows ensued! Meanwhile, Mr Shilling and Mr Stanley’s group were ready to begin their raft-building. They worked very well together as teams, communicating clearly and allowing everyone to try out ideas. Once the rafts were finished, they launched them into the pond to test out their sea-worthiness! Most voyages passed without incident, until Katie took a dive into the murky depths. Haydn, not wanting her to feel left out, soon followed. Some very wet children made their way back to shower and change, before the groups swapped activities. Mr Stanley stayed with the rafters to ensure everyone in Mrs Sharp’s group was able to cross safely, while Mr Shilling took his group to the low assault course. Mrs Sharp’s group were equally successful in using teamwork to construct their rafts, and their voyages passed without incident. Not wanting the other group to feel alone in their sogginess, Francesca, Fraiser and Alonso took a brief dip too.
Dinner on the first night included a selection of pies (of both the cottage and pastry variety) and many children tried (and enjoyed) something new. Dessert was a delicious sticky chocolate pudding or banoffee pie, which Mr Shilling was particularly taken with. After dinner, the children had an hour of free time where they could use the facilities of the common room or take part in supervised activities outside. We had booked an extra evening activity with an instructor (Gary – a highly amusing fellow). Gary showed us how to play ‘flag raiders’ on one of the fields, and several high-energy rounds (star players including Emma B, Leo and Kady) were played before hot chocolate and time for a pre-bedtime story. Once we had caught up with Bilbo Baggins’ adventures in ‘The Hobbit’, it was time for bed at 21:40, with lights out at 22:00. Despite the many hours of physical exertion, some children were not as exhausted as Mr Stanley had schemed; however, by the time Miss Lawson, Mrs Sharp, Mr Shilling and Mr Stanley retired for the evening, all children had managed to settle down for the night.
Children were unceremoniously roused from their beds at 7:00 by the adults – just time for a shower and change before heading off to breakfast at 8:00. A delicious choice of cooked breakfast, cereals and toast with jam was provided, and the children (particularly Fergus!) ensured that they were fuelled up for the day ahead. Activities were spread over 4 sessions, including the greatly-anticipated high zipline, ‘nightline’, tri-crane, archery, den-building and ‘jacob’s ladder’ – a challenging high harness climb. All children braved the nerve-wracking climb up to the zipwire platform, which was handily located in the lofty heights of a mighty oak tree. Grace R played a very helpful role ferrying the zipwire back and forth after her group members had slid down, and despite initially thinking they couldn’t do it, both Louise and Tiffany were seen zooming down happily. Once their groups were safely back down, all the adult group leaders took a turn – much to the amusement of all the children when Mrs Sharp was left dangling in her harness!
Lunch on Thursday was pizza and salad, with cookies for dessert. However, due to mysterious circumstances, the supply of cookies ran prematurely short, and some children (and adults *cough* Mr Shilling *cough*) had to be placated with ice cream instead. Dinner included a traditional roast, with choices of pork chops or chicken and dessert was a delicious apple crumble with custard. Once dinner was over, the group made their way back to the common room, where they made thank you cards for members of staff in preparation for their departure on Friday afternoon. Children were given some free time with supervised activities before more of The Hobbit and bedtime for some very tired (but happy) children.
The final day dawned bright and sunny (unlike some children!) and before too long, bags were packed ready for departure. A few activities remained to be completed, with Charlie C making short work of ‘jacob’s ladder’, May performing a spectacular (but unintentional) flip on ‘entrapment’, Rosie leading Mrs Sharp a merry dance through the woods in ‘nightline’ and an unfortunate incident with Grace Y and a broken banana that Mr Stanley had been keeping for a snack (not that Mr Stanley holds a grudge…!)
All too soon it was time for our final meal before departure. After a lunch of pasta and salad, the children said their farewells to the instructors and prepared for our return to school. It was wonderful to see all the children challenging themselves, gaining confidence and achieving things they never believed they could. Many children told the adults and instructors how they had overcome their nerves or persevered with a challenging task, and everyone learnt and developed important skills, which they can apply to their schooling next year. Miss Lawson, Mr Stanley, Mr Shilling and Mrs Sharp were all very proud of the children, who were commended by centre staff for their impeccable behaviour and positive attitudes towards the challenges.
Well done to all Mighty Oaks children; thank you to Miss Lawson, Mr Stanley, Mrs Sharp and Mr Shilling for all their help; thank you to Mrs Fearon and Mrs Raeburn for doing so much admin and organising and thank you to parents for your continued support in ensuring that our residential trips can be run in such a successful way.