The coordinator of a project to help to bring the mysteries of farming and food production to children across Cornwall has vowed to get the show back on the road after the coronavirus crisis.
Almost 9,000 schoolchildren and 98 primary schools have already enjoyed the Royal Cornwall Agricultural Association’s (RCAA) Farm & Country on the Road project.
The organisation has created a mobile classroom from a converted Business Inabox trailer made by Ifor Williams Trailers in which the live, interactive workshops take place
The battery-powered classroom has been kitted out with a variety of mod-cons to make learning a ‘hands-on’ experience including an oven, hob and sink and television screen for video-based learning. It even has a faux grass carpet to create an authentic countryside setting.
It was supplied by Ifor Williams Trailers distributors, Vincent Tractors & Plant in Fraddon, Cornwall, and was converted by the RCAA, a charity which organisations the annual Royal Cornwall Show and supports the local agricultural industry.
Children are given the chance to make porridge using an oat flaker during the experience and are even taught how to correctly milk using a life-size model goat.
The project, which cost just shy of £17,000 to launch and is delivered free of charge, is led by the RCAA’s education coordinator Emma Parkyn, who grew up on a family farm and is a qualified primary school teacher.
The 31-year-old, who lives in Wadebridge, said: “We go out visiting schools all over Cornwall to teach children where our food comes from. We have lots of different activities set up and welcome everybody on board, from vegan and vegetarian children to those who eat meat.
“We’re a completely free resource although we do ask schools if they would like to make a donation to the charity. We want to keep it a free resource to make it as accessible to schools as possible.
“As much as we loosely cover elements of the curriculum, we’re experts in this field and this allows the children to ask much more specific questions and get answers.
“We can go in and help inform the children which is really important. The feedback has been very positive from parents. Even farming children are going home to tell their parents they’ve learnt something new.
“We’ll be back on the road once the coronavirus lockdown ends.”
The idea sprung from the charity’s annual Farm & Country Days, which are always heavily oversubscribed. The two-day event welcomes 1,500 primary-aged schoolchildren every year to explore the wonders of farming and agriculture with more than 50 exhibitors offering demonstrations and their authentic insight.
“We’ve been hosting the event for seven years,” explained Emma.
“We soon realised we were not able to accommodate the numbers of children wanting to attend these days. There was a need for an outreach service going out to schools and this is where the idea evolved.”
The classroom was custom-built by RCAA staff while a local electrician and plumber was hired to fit the lights and gas supply.
The trailer has a tailgate which comes down and acts as an entrance point for the children, side door and two windows with blackout blinds. Inside, it has been fitted with storage drawers which can be secured while on the move, a whiteboard and appropriately-themed wall displays.
The charity has also purchased a second-hand Mitsubishi Shogun to tow the new classroom.
“We’re delighted with the trailer. It was very much a trial to start with as nobody, as far as we were aware, had done this before,” said Emma.
“We had a major stroke of luck in that our local Ifor Williams Trailer distributor had a trailer returned for sale from a person who had commissioned quite a high spec unit for a business but then the business never started and this brand new unit was on the market again.
“It was larger and of a higher spec than we were looking at but it is just as well that it was larger as we have made full use of the space available.
“We tried to make it a classroom with a twist so having the grass floor gives it an agricultural feel and we have displays along one side with the Countryside Code and the warning signs you might see around farmland.
“I came straight out of teaching to start this role and it has worked brilliantly. Our main ambition was to go into schools and not have to ask too much from the staff or have to move classrooms. The children come out to us and we try and do as much as we can to make it easier for the teachers. By having the trailer, it allows us to do that perfectly.
“We’ve been out in all weather conditions; snow, wind and rain and the trailer has been spot on. We couldn’t fault it.”
Alec Vincent, finance and operations manager for Vincent Tractors and Plant, said: “We are happy to support the RCAA on this new educational project. It shows an imaginative use for this versatile product offering, which we feel could extend to many different businesses in the area.
“The RCAA has been a customer for many years and it’s great to be able to support them in this worthwhile community project.”
Business Inabox trailers are known for their large capacity, adaptability and high mobility and are being used by a broad spectrum of businesses including barbers shops, clothing stores, catering units and racing motorbike workshops.
Steve Aston, the design office manager at Ifor Williams Trailers, said: “It’s great to see our Business Inabox concept being used in such an innovative way and bringing farming to life for schoolchildren.
“No detail has been spared in transforming the trailer into a fun and exciting learning environment and the children clearly love the experience. I wish the RCAA team the best of success as they prepare to entertain thousands more pupils over the coming months.”
The workshops run for about 45 minutes and the trailer can accommodate between 15 and 20 children per session, from early years foundation stage through to Key Stage 2.
The charity commissioned a series of six special educational videos from Cornwall-based Oatey Media which children watch soon after coming on-board. They also have a selection of animal skins for children to explore as part of a sensory experience.
“Since we launched, 8,930 children have visited on the trailer and we’ve had a really good reception. We’re now going back to schools we’ve been to already but are continuing to attract new schools on-board.
“We’re delighted with how it’s working and how popular it’s becoming with primary schools. We’re looking forward to visiting many more schools and continuing to promote the important job that farmers do for us.”