I was very honoured to have been invited by East Kent-based Creative Business Coach, Ruth Poundwhite, to join a group of creative entrepreneurs to talk about how they are intentionally making a difference with their businesses – to the world around them and also to themselves. I make no secret about starting the Beach School being my dream job. Here’s the story behind it and why I run the Beach School like I do…
I’m Rachel and I’m the Founder of Little Gulls Beach & Forest School, a pioneering forest school practice in the Dover area of the East Kent Coast. We provide holistic outdoor learning opportunities for young children and their families. Unlike most forest schools, we’re not in a woodland, we’re on the beach.
Little Gulls is the convergence of two life-long ambitions – the unwavering need to connect people with their local natural environment and the search for a way to make a living hanging out on the beach. I’ve always wanted to work with the natural environment and I’ve described myself as an environmentalist since I was a child.
I spent over a decade working on environmental policies and managing community and infrastructure projects and found it incredibly difficult to make the difference I’d always dreamed of making. Doing the kind of job that I’d been funnelled in to through university, that had good prospects and a nice pension, not something that filled my heart. By the time I left Local Government, I was completely lost and disillusioned. I discovered forest school when my son was a baby, when I was recovering from post natal depression, and quickly realised that it provided a place for both us to learn and connect with the natural world. It lit a fire (excuse the pun) and changed my life.
I completely retrained to work educating people outdoors and as an Early Year Practitioner. I adore young children, they are incredible authentic human beings. I am unwaveringly passionate about what outdoor learning and the Forest School process can do for all types of learners. Forest School is driven by the learners – no matter of age. A true Forest School programme is shaped by the participants and learner-centred education is the key to empowering people to be involved in their own learning for life. I want to provide learning experiences that truly enrich peoples lives.
Little Gulls was born out my love for the coast and my love for humans and I pour that love in to every part of the business: I carefully consider the education content of our sessions, balancing the needs of all our participants. We use ocean-friendly natural materials wherever possible. We offer pay-what-you-can places to marginalised families. We have accessibility statements for all our Beach School sites to support our participants with physical disabilities and those with neurodiversity. Unlike a vast proportion of the early years sector – I pay my employees a living wage. Dover is an area of multiple deprivation in a fragile coastal environment. All these things really matter here.
My background means I have unique insights and skills to bring to educating about the environment – I not only fully understand (and love) natural habitats and processes, I also have a truly holistic view about what the environment means to people and how to enhance their learning experience within it. It’s my superpower (my other superpower is paperwork, which is complimentary!)
I have to acknowledge that being able to sacrifice the safe career path to follow a heart-filled dream is loaded with privilege. Being a business owner, after suffering from mental illness and an introverted background in the public sector, has been a huge learning curve. I have to work on my mindset around money and putting myself out there every single day. Sometimes it is really hard, but it is well worth the work. The impact of changing my life in this way is immeasurable. And I get to play on the beach for a living. It doesn’t get much better than that.