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For as well as offering a wildlife haven for its 500 wild animals, carrying out vital conservation work, and providing fun its sealion house and amusement park – and more – Knowsley Safari is committed to the community, reaching out to hundreds of children across Merseyside to help them have happier and healthier lives…
“What we do is very much based on where we are, in an area where there is disadvantage and where some children don’t have the opportunities that others have,” says Nikki Mallott, head of learning and discovery. “Three or four years ago we looked at our provision, which was great from a conservation education point of view, but a lot of people locally aren’t able to access what we are doing.
“We wanted to make a real effort to improve accessibility and remove boundaries for people who wouldn’t be able to come and see what we do.”
“ We’ve developed a number of different programmes that allow community groups to access us in different ways that they may not of thought of in the past. Wild & Well and our roadshows are both free services we offer to schools”
Through Wild and Well Knowsley offers a free day out to children at schools within the Knowsley area, and it’s aimed at reception and Year 1 pupils (ages 4,5 & 6).
At Knowsley’s Woodland Walk area, children get the chance to jump in puddles, make mud pies, create dens, have lunch outside, and generally get messy.
“It’s getting back to basics,” says Nikki. “They spend the day outside and we provide splash suits and wellies so they go home ‘reasonably’ clean. Being outside helps children’s wellbeing and mental health, and without it they can be missing out.
“Wild and Well days can start a lifelong connection to nature that is longstanding and can affect their whole life. It’s developed in line with the National Curriculum, giving them the ability to play and explore. We have tough trays to explore with plastic animals and things to help with their fine motor skills.”
Knowsley goes out with its Roadshows to schools across the Liverpool City Region teaching, for free, different lessons all connected to the natural world.
“We want to build up accessibility and a lot of the time it does come down to cost so if we can do things for free or provide transport, then we will do,” adds Nikki.
“On any programme we have got two objectives, to connect children to nature or encourage them to be more sustainable. More and more now we also have another agenda, to incorporate wellbeing issues (we have all seen with the pandemic how nature and wellbeing are entwined).”
Roadshows are about inspiring youngsters from 4-11 to get engaged with exercise and enthusiastic about PE because it’s great for their physical and mental health.
“They go on a journey through the rainforest and learn about animals, what animals eat, and what’s happening in the rainforest, bringing the story to life.”
For Years 2-4, Move Like Me sessions give the chance to explore the challenges of habitat loss and animal conservation, all while getting children moving, exercising and having fun!
For Years 3-6, Food Glorious Food sessions look at how we need to be healthy and the importance of good nutrition by exploring what animals eat. It also explores how the food choices we make, from packaging to meat and sustainable choices like fish, can affect the planet around us.
For Early Years and Year 1, Chronicles of Conversation uses storytime to talk about positive behaviour changes and conservation, along with activities.
“We like to think we are creative, tackling broader issues,” says Nikki. “It’s important to us.”
“It’s important to us for two reasons,” says Nikki. “We are a business and visitor attraction, and we know many people come to us because it’s a great day out, and we want to give that great social and leisure experience; we also have a responsibility towards education and animal welfare – if we are not doing that well, what are we doing?
“But we are innovative too. Zoos have been around for hundreds of years and we have to have a purpose in our main story. Being an attraction and doing an element of education doesn’t cut the mustard. We want to go to the next level and contribute to society; going forward we should want to be at that point where people recognise our social value. It’s recognising that a lot of things we are talking about in the natural world integrate into so many elements of our lives.
“COP26 was not just about climate change, but the actions and behaviour of people. Small things we do or don’t do have an impact on it, and conservation.”
Nikki says: “It might be with accessibility and health, but it can also help with careers and confidence, and inspiration.
“By using the power of animals, we are getting groups to look at the work we do; and that’s not about whether everyone wants to be animal keepers, but inspiring people to think maybe they could find something they are passionate about, they can realise they have team working skills and can use them, and it can boost confidence.”
In the future Knowsley wants to expand the work it does in and with the community to older children, focusing less on play and discovery, and looking at adventure and risk taking.
Nikki says: “The ‘boss’, Lord Derby is enthusiastic. He recognises who he is in the community, and there’s that responsibility. We relish the responsibility and look to push forward in as many ways as we can.”
“We have worked with mental health charity MIND, and Alder Hey Children’s Hospital and, now, with wellbeing co-ordinators within secondary schools.”
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