We are a community-based off-grid education centre in Glenstrathfarrar, near Beauly in the Scottish Highlands. We use the story of the ‘shieling’ (àirigh in Gaelic) as a route into place-based learning about crofting, horticulture, green building, food growing and cooking, renewable technologies, traditional skills, crafts and culture.
We offer day and residential trips for schools and groups, support children with additional needs and run summer holiday camps, craft camps, training courses and community events. We are also home to an outdoor nursery. Our spaces can be hired as a venue for community gatherings.
The project started in 2015 on a degraded area of a Highland estate. With the help and participation of our visiting groups and volunteers, we have built up the site and now have an outdoor classroom, kitchen and cooking areas, bothy accommodation, wash house and micro dairy. We have also welcomed over 50 livestock and have planted hundreds of native trees, including local aspen and basket willow.
‘Going to the shieling’ was the traditional practice of moving up to the high pastures with livestock to live there for the summer. Shieling huts were simple shelters, bothan in Gaelic, (which is where we get the word ‘bothy’ from). There is a vital ecological story here: when people left the landscape and took the cattle with them, the biodiversity of the hills and forests declined. Today, after years of damaging land use, our landscapes are in a state of degradation. The project invites us all to imagine a flourishing Highland future, with restored life, abundance, people and community.
Any approach to sustainability education needs to find a way to develop an ecological and environmental awareness which will lead to action because people care. Here, learners experience a place where natural environments and animals are not simply valued as resources to be exploited, but as complex, interrelated systems and a living part of our culture.
Connecting people to the land through physical, embodied activities – as well as imaginatively, through creativity, story and song – ensures that experiences with nature are practical, shared with others and multidimensional, all of which forges a connection to something bigger than the individual.
Food has always been central to the project. In our world today, it is more vital than ever for children to know where their food comes from, learn the skills and knowledge of what they can grow, and find out how to be part of local food production. At the project, children learn to build raised beds, grow and cook vegetables and last year made a start planting traditional strains of oats and barley. We have also recently re-built a byre from the ground up, turning it into a micro-dairy for milk, butter and cheese.
We see a huge and renewed need for our project in a post Covid-19 world. Our combination of care crofting and food production provides much-needed outdoor time and slow recovery, the re-creation of feelings of safety and predictability, the building back up of confidence, of relationships with people and landscape and a re-kindling of community.
The project was awarded the ‘Best Social Enterprise’ in the Highland Business Awards 2017, and in 2019 won ‘Best Environmental Social Enterprise’ in the Social Enterprise Scotland Awards, and ‘Innovation in Delivering a Sustainable Learning Space’ at the Education Buildings Scotland Awards. We also have the exciting opportunity to expand our work to two other sites in the North of Scotland.