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Others in the group of 30 or so are playing happily in the Dragon’s Swamp, climbing, sliding and ‘flying’ in the Imagination Tree, or constructing a tepee from boughs twice their size, which even the tiniest are determinedly dragging along.
Dating back to the 17th century, Stockers House has got its share of original features of course, but all of its rooms are large and airy, something you don’t always find in period properties, and it’s got some rather cool contemporary features.The story began in 2011 when civil servants Leanna and James Barrett started looking for a day nursery in London for their first child Ella. ‘Some had no outside access so the children were stuck indoors all the time.Others boasted that they took them outside for an hour each day.Baggsy this one: imagine waking up to this every morning: light streaming in through the enormous sash window and with fab views of the garden.Pass me the loofah, I’m just going to hop, skip and jump into the freestanding bath in the Jack and Jill en suite…We realised that if Ella and Jack [now joined by Indie, 21 months] were to have the amazing childhood they deserve, we would have to open one ourselves.’They set to work, finding the site, organising finance (‘remortgaging our house’) and researching possible models. We wanted children to be outside in the fresh air full-time and we wanted them to have the time and space to play in nature, letting their imaginations run free and developing skills for life.’Early years specialist Dr David Whitebread of Cambridge University says that ‘the value of play is increasingly recognised…as the evidence mounts of its relationship with intellectual achievement and emotional wellbeing’.
But he warns that ‘opportunities for play are constrained within modern urbanised societies’, partly due to a risk-averse society and an emphasis on ‘earlier is better’ when it comes to the three Rs.
It just wasn’t good enough.’By 2013, when Ella was two and had a baby brother Jack, the Barretts had to make a decision.
‘We wanted our children to go to a forest nursery like they have in Scandinavian countries, but there was only one in the UK at that point – in Fife.
They are ‘detecting bugs’, but even more excitingly, ‘we might find a wiggly worm,’ says Coen, beaming.
It’s elevenish on a weekday summer morning and I’m visiting a day nursery for two- to five-year-olds.
Someone’s lavished a lot of love and care out here, with pretty planting, a large pond festooned with lily pads, well-kept borders and lawns, stone pathways, a greenhouse or two and a summerhouse. Yep, there’s a two-storey annex with its own secret garden hidden away down there. Somerton, said to be the capital of ancient Wessex, is a pretty little town with a French feel – think wide streets lined with old stone houses.