The Greatest Outdoors

Category: Press Releases

MyNI website presence!

This summer we ran a very satisfying Forest School summer scheme and had loads and loads of great feedback. Some of it was so good that it made it to the MyNI website. Here is the link.


The Year that Was…

Hi all, I thought I’d try and update the very busy last year we have had. It has been an incredible journey we have taken since the end of September last year.

Before we get into that here is the booking form in case you’d like to find out more about what we are doing…

Because we now have art classes, weekly sessions, a summer scheme and birthday parties, we have a single booking form for you to register your interest. Fill it in and Jonathan will get back to you… or you CAN email Or call 07410411840.

Some highlights:

Quarries Sessions

Our Quarries sessions were the first to get going. Thanks to Joan Woods, we were able to start our Tuesday and Saturday sessions. We had originally hoped to have had a peripatetic existence, taking the Elements experience on the road to schools, but Covid prevented this. So instead, we began our sessions here in this impossibly idyllic site. We counted frogs, listened to stories and made fires…. we watched the seasons change here.

We came in second for the the Muddy Faces Dragon Sneeze competition!!!!
The colours of late summer
We foraged and made apple and meadowsweet tea…
We made charcoal….

Hillsbrough Sessions

We began sessions in Hillsbrough in October and we had a little band of Elements. It has been very successful and we will continue with this.

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This is Sassy Susan

Sassy Susan has been named by the students who attend Hillsbrough. She was an important part of our map making and orienteering sessions. Some skills we covered during these sessions included

  • Whittling
  • Foraging
  • Use of kelly kettle
  • Orienteering
  • Mapmaking
  • Bird Song ID
  • Plant ID
  • Knots
  • Making walking sticks

Óiche Shamhna

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Collaborating with artist Jennifer McQuillan we put on a Halloween which returned to the Sidhe and traditions which venerated this very special evening as the start of the Celtic year. There was even a full moon!!!!

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Green Santa!

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To get away from the commercialism of Christmas, we invited the Green Santa to come along and put up in the roundhouse at The Quarries. The beautiful cold evenings with a welcoming fire and candlelit room made it an encounter to remember.

Birthday Parties!

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We were delighted to be able to host birthday parties where we played games, had a space to cut the cake and spend sometime in nature!

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Art classes… beginning of lessons for older children and adults

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For the longest time we were asked if we would organise sessions for older people and children and Gabriel Knight obliged! We started drawing classes for 12+ that included charcoal making and making elderflower cordial. As the first set of classes comes to an end, we are now organsing the Autumn programme. We are looking at copper smelting, survival skills, textile work, more drawing (of fungi) and an acrylic painting workshop – just in time for Christmas gifts. Of course Halloween and Green Santa will be there right along with us!

I have a silly little dream that it will eventually evolve into the equivalent of a 21st century hub of the Arts and Crafts movement… With artists from far and wide coming to work with us and with people from different age groups and abilities.

We can always dream…

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Our first summer scheme

The summer scheme is about to start and we are holding it in Helen’s Bay. For the very first time and it is completely sold out! Here’s hoping for a truly wonderful two weeks.

May be an image of tree, outdoors and text that says "elements forest and garden school Summer Scheme Glencraig, Helen's Bay Ages years old 5- July, 2021Full Waiting List open 2-5 Aug, 2021 9am- 1pm £22 per child per session £85 for the whole week (4 days) for more information or to book a place email:, or call Jonathan on 07140411840 you can also visit our webiste at eLeMeNTS GARDEN SCHOOL"


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All that’s left is for us to say thank you. We would like to name check the following people and organisations

Alison McCaw and the Ards and North Down Social Enterprise Programme

They helped us do our business plan, helped us get in touch with so many kind people and Alison gave us such sound advise and supported us unreservedly. It was impossible to have a better mentor

Joan Woods and the Quarries Farm

Joan invited us to set up at the Quarries and gave us a start! Thank you Joan!

Heidi Steffen, Iona Shop

Heidi has supported us with the donation of some art supplies

Brian Poots, NIFSA

Brian trained me (Stephanie) and gave me so much encouragement to start. We also helped speak to some people to get started in Lisburn.

And thank you to everyone who has come along for our programmes and supported us that way. We hope that you have gotten as much out of them as we have had putting them on.

Thus passeth the month (almost!)

Tree pruning

We have had an amazing month. We have made ink, charcoal, cordage, bows and arrows, held a birthday party already and had more than twenty children through our doors. We have soil tested, counted up frogs, learned how to clear dead wood and remove ivy. And we have only just started.

Thank you to everyone who has been so supportive, especially Joan Woods and Tina Kearsting, our fairy godmothers – without them nothing would have been possible. And of course, the elementals themselves, who have been with us every step of the way. Thank you guys!

A Councilor Visits

Councillor Janice McArthur paid us a special visit. Here she is seen with Lucy McCaw, enjoying some nettle tea. Lucy is also harvesting nettle fibres. The story told this week was the Wild Swans.

Janice is a huge supporter of outdoor education, mental health and well being. Her deep connection to the landscape through history and lived experience came through as we walked through the forest.

Having councilors who are onboard and recognise the value of being outdoors is so heartwarming and encouraging for the future of education.

Elementally Natural!

Lucy McCaw and Elaria Leech hang out with Parallel Dimension inhabitant by Siubhan Regan

(Our first press release, hopefully the first of many!)

New Forest School brings Children, Art and Science Outdoors

Elements, a new forest school which aims to bring the best of learning and play together in the great outdoors staged its first session on 8 September. The social enterprise sees lifelong educators Stephanie Sim and Jonathan McMurray make their dream of creating a holistic educational environment in an outdoor setting come true.

“Northern Ireland is full of amazing outdoor spaces and the opportunity to enable children and families to connect to it in a meaningful and enriched manner was something I had always hoped to do,” said Stephanie Sim, co-owner of the initiative.

“There is a very strong body of academic knowledge confirming what many teachers know: getting outdoors is great for not only health, but learning as well,” said Jonathan McMurray, also the co-owner. “With many teachers having extra restrictions and controls put on them, this year socialising, playing and learning outside with our expertise behind it is sure to make a huge difference and we are so excited to offer it in a range of great sites.”

Elements will deliver forest school sessions from a variety of locations – the most recently secured venue is The Quarries Farm, which is situated on Gransha Road on the outskirts of Bangor. The farm, owned and run by Joan Woods and Tina Kersting, provides a perfect location. It is sensitively managed and has an incredible variety of habitat.

“When Joan showed me round the farm I was astounded,” said Stephanie. “The older woodland dates back to the 1830s and the new woodland which was planted by Joan and Tina is around 15 years old. Both complement the other and provide the perfect setting for a Forest School. Here children are able to be free, learn about the incredible biodiversity found on the farm that ranges from frogs to insects and birds.”

“We are thrilled that Elements will be using the space as a Forest School,” said Joan. “The farm serves as a resource for the community as well as an important lifeline for nature. We are very glad that children – and adults – will be able to come and appreciate this very special place.”

Elements will run two days a week – on a Tuesday afternoon from 3.30 to 5.30 pm and on Saturdays from 10 am to 12 pm. The cost is £18 per child, with a discount for siblings and long term bookings.

“We would like to acknowledge the great debt of gratitude to the Ards and North Down Social Enterprise Programme which gave us invaluable support and guidance,” said Jonathan. “They have been so helpful. We would especially like to thank Alison McCaw who has tirelessly helped us shape our business plan and gave us good advice.”

Alison added, “ANDSEP has been delighted to help Elements get started and refine their ideas to become such a beneficial business. Not only does it contribute to the well-being and sensory development of children through rich outdoor experiences, but the ethos of the programme is particularly beneficial at this time to support children holistically. We wish Jonathan and Stephanie the best of luck and hope that their endeavour will continue to grow.”

Emma Foley, mother of two children who have been on sessions with Elements had this to say. “The time my daughters spent in the woods with Stephanie was magical. They got to enjoy and investigate and create in their surroundings guided by her knowledge and storytelling. They cannot wait to go back.”

Elements is also holding a weekly session in Hillsbrough Forest Park on Wednesday from October and is available for birthday parties and family groups. For more information or to book a session go to OR to book a session go here. You can also email them at and follow them on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

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