We hear from Clare French, headteacher of Kendall CE Primary School in Colchester, about her residential visit to Wicken House when she was a youngster and why it had such a long-lasting impact.

Children creating pavement art

Clare used her own art experiences from the trip to Wicken House to encourage her own pupils to create outdoor art.

The educational visit that had the biggest impact on my life and subsequently on the educational lives of many others, was actually a residential trip that I went on as an A-level art student.

Clare French headshot

Clare French.

We stayed for a weekend at a place called Wicken House, close to Stansted. It was an old Victorian villa that felt full of history and mystery with its high ceilinged dorm rooms and its dining room featuring old, dark, wooden rectory tables and chairs. The grounds were stunning with mature trees dotted around its sweeping lawns and woodland at its boundaries; the students were given free range.

I recall studying the work of Andy Goldsworthy that inspired the natural installations and sculptures that we created; teams of us wove swags of hay through trees and installed other sculptures with natural materials into the landscape. We had never experienced anything like it in the art rooms of school or the studios of the Sixth Form College. We discovered a lot about one another during that weekend and learned how to create as a team, which we had little experience of before this opportunity.

I had never stayed anywhere like this – it was a truly inspirational place. The days flew by and I remember the activities planned for us involved making amazing works of art, much of it outdoors and inspired by our surroundings.

Many years later, it turned out that a school where I was teaching used Wicken House for their Year 6 residential trips. Amongst the usual diet of track biking, orienteering and archery, the children got to design and create fabulous large scale artwork. Upon our return, it would adorn the school entrance hall until something different and equally as impressive replaced it the following year when the next annual residential took place. It kept my own memories as an art student at Wicken House alive.

These experiences no doubt influenced the way I have developed my teaching team to deliver our curriculum at the school where I currently serve as headteacher.

Want to share your school trip memories?

At a time when school trips are not possible, we’d love to hear from teachers, school staff and others about their own school trip experiences and the impact they had. Please email us at editorial@schooltravelorganiser.com

Learning across the whole curriculum regularly takes place outdoors at our school, no matter what the time of year and in every year group. Naturally, our children get to make a great deal of art outdoors, particularly in our small woodland. They now study the installations in natural landscapes by sculptor Andy Goldsworthy for the first time as their inspiration.

The legacy of Wicken House lives on. The residential visit that took place so early on in my academic career has paved the way for excellence in outdoor learning at our small school in its unlikely urban setting with its woodland oasis attached.

Not only did visiting Wicken House (which has since closed) give me an excellent outdoor learning experience when I was a student, it continued to do so for countless other young people across Essex. In turn, it directly influenced the way that our school now delivers its curriculum to the next generation of young people and I hope it will continue to do so for many more generations to come.