Friday, July 1, 2011

Withers Primary School Renamed

A first step along the road to developing a school with a more nature focued ethos has been applying to have the school remamed.  After an 18 month process involving lots of parental feedback we have been successful in having the new name approved.  From the beginning of this year Maidens Park Primary is our new name.

Withers Primary School has officially changed its name to Maidens Park.  Situated close to nearby natural hills known as “the Maidens”  which are also part of the Maidens Reserve.  Statues of 2 maidens adorn the Ocean Drive entrance to Westwood Street which is directly opposite the Maidens Reserve. 

Withers Primary School has developed a close link to the Maidens Reserve.  Students often walk to the Maidens Reserve and this has become an integral part of the school outdoor learning environment. 

The schools links to the Maidens Reserve and its developing nature based environmental program and developed a close partnership with the City of Bunbury through the Habitat Project and the school community has been involved with revegetation and book publication. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Taking Children Outdoors

This week I decided to get outdoors with my youngest son.  We went for a three day hike in the Stirling Ranges.  This is a range of hills about three hours away from home.  The link here is to a five minute video of our little adventure.  Next year I am plannng to take our Year 7 class on a camp and have the children climb the Bluff Knoll section.  This is following my involvement in the camp in Wales earlier this year.  I really want to challenge the students with some nature based activities.
 Stirling Range Ridge Walk

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Last week a large tree collapsed and fell in the Pre Primary area landing on several students.  All students are now safely back at school.  Following this unfortunate accident, children were kept away from all large trees until a thorough site inspection could be undertaken by a qualified arborist.  This occurred on Friday.  In order to get the best advice a very experienced and respected arborist from outside Bunbury was brought in  This arborist has some long term concerns about a few trees on site, however has assured me all trees on site pose no immediate danger to students.  The tree that fell was, in his opinion, due to what he referred to as a compression split.  This occurs when two trees trunks form from the one stump, the new trunk is often referred to as a ‘sucker’.  No other trees on site have this occurring.  Concern from parents is understandable.  When schools have pursued such a nature based grounds, large trees can be dangerous.  Schools need to ensure when planting trees that they select trees that are appropriate for schools, and not varieties that drop limbs.  The Withers community is keen to see more trees planted and the school is currently planning a large forest area.  Working with local horticulturalists and utilising recommended trees will not eliminate this risk but assist in reducing it.  Managing similar situations are important in maintaining enthusiasm for grounds development.

Tree Falling at School

Friday, August 27, 2010

Withers Primary Begins Developing Grounds

A number of projects are now underway at Withers Primary School. Our Kindergarten and Pre Primary class and Yr 1/2 classes have planted vegetable gardens. One of our local hardware stores, Bunnings spent a great deal of time assisting with planting the vegetable and native gardens and donated plants for the Year 1/2 garden. A scarecrow now graces one of the gardens with another one being constructed. In relation to developing a “Green Belt” at the school, Bunnings also donated around 50 native plants which our Yr 6 class planted at an unused end of the school oval.

The key to success remains with children being involved in developing the school grounds. Our current ad hoc approach is about to change as a new Grounds Committee has just been formed. This committee made up mainly of students but also with staff and parent representatives has been busy surveying all students across the school to ensure their views are heard. I have used my Churchill Fellowship experience to share best practice examples from across the United Kingdom with students from Withers to assist them in making choices.

Kindergarten PrePrimary Garden
Grounds Committee Tree Planting

New Native Trees

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Camp Day 3

HMAS Sydney Memorial

Raft Building


Dragon Boats

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Yr 7 Camp Day 2

Boxercise PCYC Geraldton
Radio Mama 105.5fm .
Team Games Geraldton Camp School

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Camp Day 1

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Yr 7 Camp Geraldton

Today our Year 7 class headed off to Geraldton for their much anticipated camp, with me driving the bus and 2 other staff members.  The 8 hr drive north of Bunbury went well, however the “are we there yet?” questions began within the first hour.  On arrival at the camp school we were met by Geraldton Camp School Manager Carol, who ran the children through some team games.   Games night is now up and running. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Returning to Western Australia

I have now safely returned home to Bunbury in the south west of Western Australia.  Thanks to everyone who has followed my blog, particularly all those who have posted comments. 

I’ve had an absolutely wonderful time and met some fantastic and highly dedicated teachers and outdoor grounds professionals.  Although my posts will now be less frequent, I will now use this blog to follow Withers Primary School’s outdoor grounds development.  This will be the real test of the success of my Churchill Fellowship, practical application of what I have learnt.  I will be presenting my findings to staff at Withers Primary School next Monday.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Canals Wales

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Learning Through Landscapes Conference

1 July Learning Through Landscapes Conference Winchester England

This year marked the 20th anniversary of LTL and was celebrated throughout the conference.  A number of presenters from around the globe gave insight into where their country was in relation to school grounds development.

Petter Akerblom, Movium Centre for Urban Environment.  Sweden.
Movium collects and spreads knowledge on urban outdoor environments and has done so since the early 1990’s.  Peter co-ordinates projects, educational activities and reporting.  Grounds development was not just about developing a nice setting but about a holistic approach to learning.  Petter spoke of a resurgence of school gardens as a teaching tool in Sweden.  The government is now committed to education in outdoor environments and is committing 800 000 pounds in an effort to green school grounds.  He spoke of how much is spent on indoor classrooms and how little in the outdoors.  In most instances it is not seen as a resource.   Sweden relies heavily on state funded positions rather than volunteers to develop school grounds.  He reiterated a common theme regarding weather and recounted how in the north on Sweden where in winter it is dark for 4 months of the year, with severe weather, outdoor learning occurs continuously.  The focus on school grounds development is
        Make school grounds more important in the learning process.
        Low Cost
        Involve parents, students staff in the decision making process.

The school grounds should be “A place for learning, an object for learning and a way of learning” His vision is that there are no boundaries between indoor and outdoor learning.

Ko Senda Landscape Architect Environmental Design Institute, Tokyo Japan.

Ko specialises in school grounds design.  Schools in Japan are getting behind the school grounds movement.  90% of all schools have a vegetable garden and pets.  Schools are designed with this in mind.  A great deal of government support is available to promote school grounds development in Japan.  He considers the following concepts vital to successful grounds development.
-                      Space
-                      Flow Line
-                      Design
-                      Environmentally Friendly
-                      Child participation in design and construction
-                      Safety

He spoke of Professor Mitsuru Senda’s Theory of Play Space  having six elements :Play Structure Space, Nature Space, Hide Out Space, Street Space, Anarchy Space and Open Space.  He expanded on this theory as follows.

-                      OPEN SPACE (Playing Field, Outdoor Stage, Seating and Play Area.
-                      STREET SPACE (Walkways on street side of school)
-                      CIRCULATION (Paths that ensure there is no beginning or end to the outdoor area)
-                      NATURE SPACE (Plants, Symbolic Trees, School Farm including vegetables and flowers, pond\stream, small hills, tunnels, domesticated animals)
-                      ANARCHY SPACE (Construction site,
-                      SEATING SPACE (Log bench, space for adults to talk)
-                      CONTINUITY (Indoor and outdoor spaces need to be connected)
-                      HIDE OUT SPACE

Often he wasn’t able to include all elements in the design but the more that were included the more successful the outdoor space would be.

Maranne van Lier Stichting Oase and Sprinzaad, the Netherlands
Maranne spoke of the networks of like minded groups that existed in the Netherlands.  Again the government was behind the greening movement.  He spoke of the large number of public gardens that had been established across the Netherlands.  Children were no longer finding nature and were becoming more and more distant from it.  Maranne said if children don’t find nature anymore then we need to bring nature back to children.  Maranne accepted risk and said it was about communicating this to parents and the community.  A book recommended is Playing Outdoors: Spaces and Places, Risks and Challenge (Debating Play) (Paperback) by Helen Tovey

Helen Tunggal, previously a Principal is currently manager of Learnscapes, an approach incorporating much of the LTS philosophy into a structured approach for implementation of new grounds development projects.   Helen reiterated the importance of planning.  She recommended the following handbook.

Sharon Danks, Bay Tree Design, San Francisco.
Sharon works with schools across California with vibrant playground design.  Her work includes as director of Green School Alliance.

-                      Wildlife Habitats
-                      Student, community and parent participation
-                      Water systems
-                      Energy systems (Demonstration i.e. small wind generator/ solar pump not reducing carbon footprint simply a demonstration)
-                      Biodiversity ….Green
-                      Curriculum connection
-                      Allows active and creative play
-                      Comfort
-                      Beauty
-                      Form Function

Her rule of thumb is to dream big but start small.  Have a 10 year plan and just take on one section each year.  The plan is actually ongoing and as part of sustainability never actually finishes. 

Catherine Andrews, CEO of Learning Through Landscapes
The UK movement with the vision that every child benefits from stimulating outdoor learning and playing.  Catherine spoke extensively about LTL which has been detailed elsewhere in this blog.
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Friday, July 2, 2010

Brighton and Hove Heritage and Environmental Festival

30 June 2010
Brighton and Hove Heritage and Environment Festival
Today I attended Brighton and Hove’s Heritage and Environment Festival at Moulsecoomb Primary School.  Over 700 students from 5 different primary schools rotated through 12 activities over 3 days.  Each group of students spending half a day participating in outdoor learning workshops.  Workshops included Forest Schools, Food Partnerships, Fermenting, Story Making, Minibeasts, Creative Willow, SAS bread, Archaeological Dig, Neolithic clothes, museum skeletons, farming and the country side, RSPB making bird feeders, herbs, and house building. 

A real sense of community existed between the various groups who had been brought in to run these sessions.  The emphasis was on nature and the outdoors with a real flavour of history.  Children working with archaeologists actually finding medieval artefacts then building Neolithic shelters with staff from ESAMP (?)  The school was a real hive of activity throughout the day.  The afternoon involved teacher professional development sessions which were an expansion on the morning sessions.   

Having seen the schools outdoor learning environment and then the outdoor camp in Wales, seeing outside organisations being brought in to deliver outdoor learning meshed in well with the school’s whole overall ethos.  Although an annual activity, the festival value added to much of the learning that occurred as an ongoing part of the schools curriculum.

What was enlightening was that the festival was so well supported by professionals who were delighted to be able to get children involved and excited about what interested them.

Teacher Workshops
The afternoon professional development session was spent with Sussex Wildlife Trust and the Neolithic Builders.  The wildlife trust is a charitable organisation which looks after over 30 wildlife areas.  A big part of its summer program is running 10 week Forest School sessions.  Many teachers who are involved with Forest Schools with the Wildlife Trust go on to do the training and run Forest Schools independently of the Wildlife Trust.  Training is 5 days residential followed by a portfolio and written assignments and is usually complete within 12 months.  The Wildlife trust demonstrated swish netting for insects and utilizing mini microscopes to look at what was caught in the net. Children were happily make a myriad of  objects from willow harvested the previous year.  I was given a number of publications from The Woodland Trust including, Hug a Tree, Tree Party, Having Fun With Fungi and Do One Thing For Nature.  All these are published by The Wildlife Trusts,

I also spoke with Ganesh and Elaine Kings from Creative Willow Structures who spoke of the endless learning potential with willow. 

Much of the building work was very labour intensive and promoted team work to achieve tasks.  Very simple tasks for example moving a large log requires problem solving, leadership and team work, qualities which give opportunities of less academic students to often shine.  The sessions were well attended from across the district and provided by East Sussex Archaeology and Museum Partnerships There was a very laid back casualness to the sessions which encouraged networking during sessions.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Shannaghmore Outdoor Education Centre

28 June pm
Shannaghmore Outdoor Education Centre Newcastle Northern Ireland

This afternoon was spent with Andy Carden from Shannaghmore Outdoor Education Centre.  A similar organisation to a Camp School in Western Australia.  However due to their location they are able to offer a wide range of outdoor experiences.  I was keen to see how an organisation of this nature linked in to schools and their outdoors programs.  This was different from many of my previous visits however a worthwhile addition to my Fellowship, from an independent organisations viewpoint that is involved with schools.

Andy’s official title is as a Warden, but he is essentially the Manager of Shannaghmore Outdoor Centre and was very generous with his time both discussing the centre and giving me a tour of the centre which was really appreciated.  Basically the centre offers residential placements for a variety of varying levels of “adventure” outdoor activities for both school students and teacher leadership training.  The Centre is subsidised by their Education Department which keeps costs down allowing many less well off students a cost effective residential outdoor camp experience.  Primary School residential camps usually run for 2 ½ days but can go for up to 6 days although the longer residential camps occur less  infrequently.  9 similar centres exist across different education districts in Northern Ireland .  Youth groups utilize the facility on weekends.

Due to its location in Newcastle it is nestled between Dundrum Bay (Irish Sea) and the Mourne Mountains, it is able to offer mountain, lake and sea based activities.   Specific activities offered include hill walking, orienteering, wet bouldering, climbing, and first aide leadership courses for staff.  The real focus of these leadership courses is to get the teacher taking their own classes outdoors.

Primary involvement is not linked directly to the curriculum unless schools specifically request so.  Student focus is really simply to experience the outdoors.  For many students this is their first experience in the outdoors.  Andy spoke of urbanised students who needed to  for example learn how to walk on rocky uneven surfaces as they had no previous experience. 

Andy took me on a tour of the centre which was well equipped with a large repository of resources to enhance outdoor experiences and ensure conditions outside didn’t detract from students learning opportunities.  Included in the store was the following equipment which would be of benefit to any school undertaking an outdoor program.
-                      Wellington boots;
-                      walking boots;
-                      wet weather gear raincoats and wet weather pants
-                      binoculars;
-                      pond dipping nets, buckets, magnifying glasses;
-                      jumpers;
-                      and litter bags

One element of the  centre is assisting with the John Muir Awards. One aim is to leave wild areas in a better state than they find them.  Litter bags are always taken into the woods and collecting, and cleaning up sites archives one on the John Muir aims of leaving a natural area better than you find it.  A real focus of the John Muir Awards is for disadvantaged children.  As part of this Award they get involved with exploring, canoeing, walking, wildlife habitat, environmental care and pond dipping.

Andy suggested a good contact for school grounds would be Liz Wallace of the Magilligan Field Centre. .  Also  which is the institute for outdoor learning.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Hazelwood Integrated Primary School (Belfast Northern Ireland)

Hazelwood Integrated Primary School …Nthn Ireland.  I spent the morning with the P7 class who also took me on a tour of their woodland that backed on to the school ground.  The integrated part of the school name comes from both Protestant and Catholic students being enrolled at the school.  The school is located in an ideal location for an integrated campus.  On the school’s Northern boundary is a predominantly Protestant Estate and on the southern boundary is predominantly  Catholic Estate with the school sandwiched between.  To the schools west is the local woodland which is used extensively for the Forest School program.  In Northern Ireland approximately 8% of students are in an integrated school with other students enrolled in either Catholic or Protestant schools.  The school is full with a waiting list for families wanting to enrol their children.

Jim McDaid the Assistant Principal is the Forest School Coordinator at Hazelwood Integrated Primary School.  He was very generous in giving of his time and sharing resources.  At Hazelwood the Forest is managed by the local authority who work with the school in the management of the woodland.  The woodland is a public park however during the day few visitors mean essentially the school has it to themselves.  Beyond the woods in a huge hill overlooking Dublin.  It looks like a persons head lying down, and was the inspiration for the book “Gulliver’s Travels. 

While walking through the woods several rabbits were spotted, I felt this was a fairly common occurrence however there was great excitement each time one was spotted.  We managed to get really close before they would scamper off. This 17 acre site is a real asset particularly being on the schools boundary. 

Jim has developed a set of resources for each year level.  These resources are the minimum expectation for students Forest School work.  Teachers are free to do more, and many do.  Classes usually visit the woods at lease once per month to complete the activities listed in their class book.  Jim has used the following web site for developing activities. 
Jim demonstrated a number of Forest School activities with his class.
1.                  The class went out and played a game of Camouflage… essentially hide and seek.
2.                  Tree hugging… a student was blindfolded, lead to a tree and had to memorise the tree by touch and was then led back to the start point.  The student then had to identify his tree.  This was achieved all be it unsuccessfully by going up to trees and feeling them to match the memory from hugging the tree when blindfolded.   Great fun and multi sensory.  The activity gave students a real micro experience with a tree.
Jim also spoke of other tree activities; Students were taught how to calculate the age of a tree.  2.3 divided by the circumference.  Students then had to find a tree that was the same age as them.  In another activity they would find the oldest tree in the wood.  In the case of this wood the oldest tree was 198 years old.  They would then research the period in history when the tree’s life began.  Students developed a real appreciation for what essentially will be the largest and oldest living thing many of them will ever meet. 

To develop the theme of camouflage one activity was to give all students two pieces of string, one brown and one yellow and having students hide them from each other.  All pieces of yellow string were found but none of the brown.

Jim saw the Forest School program as something to develop pastoral care and promote self esteem.  The curriculum content was important but not the primary focus. 

The school was also heavily involved in the John Muir Awards and used their wood for this.  Eco Schools was also big with particular emphasis on energy.

All in all a fabulous visit and very informative.   

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Giants' Causeway and photos of Ireland and Northern Ireland

Ireland and Northern Ireland in 2 days!

Giant's Causeway...County Antrim...Northern Ireland

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Ireland/Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland and Ireland in 2 days!

Hi all, this is Mrs Cumming.  We are up the north west of Ireland in County Donegal.  It is 10pm and Mr Cumming has gone off to find a mountain to climb! It is still light here so we are able to make the most of every day...working during the day for Mr Cumming and then exploring in the afternoon/evening. I read that it has been really cold in Bunbury..we have been very lucky over here, with hardly any rain.

We arrived in Ireland last week and had a few days off visiting Ireland's west coast.There are castles, ruins, cliffs, mountains, green hills, lakes everywhere and it is all so beautiful. We then drove across to Northern Ireland, near Belfast, where Mr Cumming visited the school (see last post), then that afternoon we headed up the coast to see the most stunning favourite was a place called the Giant's Causeway (see photos) which is a large mass of column rocks formed over 60 million years ago by volcanic activity.The tops of the columns form stepping stones that lead from the cliff foot and disappear under the sea. Most of the columns are hexagonal although there are also some with four, five, seven and eight sides. The tallest are about 12 metres (36 ft) high and they all fit together like a jigsaw. There are about 40 000 rocks in the area, but I'm not sure who counted them!  Ask Mr Cumming the other story of how they were formed which I think is a much better story..about the 2 giants!

We then drove along the coast but it took us 7 hrs to travel 160 kms because we kept stopping to look at all the amazing scenery.  This morning we found a very old castle called Dunluce Castle which was built in the 16th Century. It is perched high on a cliff and has started to fall down, but is great to see and read about. (see photos)
We then caught a car ferry to Ireland where we drove to the most northern point of Ireland..a place called Malin Head. Again the scenery was beautiful and we decided to take the car on a gravel track and walked about 1km to a magnificent set of cliffs. Ther are very high and sheer, which means they drop straight down into the ocean. It is really scary walking along the edge of them, but the views were breathtaking. I will put some photos up and if you look really carefully you may see Mr Cumming at the top of one and me at the top of another.
Tomorrow we will explore a tiny bit more of Ireland before driving back to Northern Ireland.  Mr Cumming is meeting with 3 different people on Monday in Belfast and then we drive to Dublin (Ireland's capital) to fly back to England where Mr Cumming has a conference as well as a school visit.  On Friday we have to be in Wales to visit another school! PHEW! So 4 countries in 1 week!
I know this is your last week of school, so have a safe holiday and we will see you all next term..
Seeya, Mrs Cumming

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Fairview Primary School (Belfast Northern Ireland)

Fairview Primary School
Today I visited Neil McAllister from Fairview Primary School (500 students) in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  Neil is a Year 6 Teacher who also co-ordinates the schools environmental programs.  I also met briefly with Mrs Maxwell the school Principal.  Neil was very generous with his time and despite undergoing his annual assessment the day of my visit was more than happy to have me sit in on his assessed lesson.  Neil’s passion for Fairview Primary extends over 6 years as a teacher and beyond that as an ex student. 
FairviewPrimary is currently involved in a number of programs I have already looked at to varying degrees:  Forest School, Learning Outside the Classroom, John Muir Award and Eco School.   What was particularly interesting was how the school incorporated all four programs into a holistic environmental program across the school.  Each program supplemented each other and worked well together. 
I was particularly interested in what the school did in relation to its Forest School program.  The deeper into Forest Schools I went the more it became apparent this was just a part of an overall approach.  Eco Schools, Learning Outside the Classroom, John Muir and Forest School all overlapped and supported each other.  Neil felt the opening up of the curriculum by the Education Department had made the outdoor environment more relevant.
Forest Schools
This operates across all three P6 classes.  Once a fortnight each class visits their local forest which is a 20 minute walk from the school.  Classes rotate lesson slots each fortnight. 
9:00am – 11:00am      Class 1
11:00am – 12:30pm    Class 2
1:15pm – 2:30pm        Class 3
Sessions are not always coordinated between classes.  Teachers run the sessions, however a forest expert provided by the local town authority, Dorothy Blackley remains all day in the forest to provide expert advice and support to lessons. This support is provided for the initial year of Forest Schools and will be withdrawn next year.  Teachers will then undertake the program in its entirety, having picked up expertise from Dorothy on the job throughout the year.
I had the opportunity to speak to Neil’s class about Forest Schools and they were so positive.  One common thread across the three P6 classes who undertook the program was when returning to class, students were required to keep a detailed diary.   Art, Health, Mathematics, Literacy, Science activities were all explained in detail by students.  They obviously had retained much of the information covered in Forest School and really didn’t liken this to in class lessons.  They just loved getting outside.  Next year the school is looking at linking each P6 class with a P2 class for some of their session with older students buddying up with younger students. 
School Grounds
The School Grounds have a well developed outdoor area with many spaces providing for future growth.  The area was more like a Forest within the school and included some outdoor classroom areas, tunnels and plenty of natural woodland areas.  Children were free to play in these areas during break times.  Staggered break times occurred due to constraints on facilities so younger students were not outside at the same time as older students.  When times do overlap students are restricted to Year level play areas.  Neil attended a Growing School Grounds conference in late 2009 which provided him with many ideas which he plans on developing into the school grounds in the future..  Many interesting grounds developments that I hadn’t seen before were as follows:

1.                    Each year level had a planter and looked after it for 12 months, each planter had a theme including, conifers, roses, healthy food.  Classes could add take away and develop these as they saw fit.
2.                    Year 7 leavers donated and planted a tree to the school grounds, and long term staff who were leaving the school also donated and planted trees.
The grounds development has been underway for four years and shows what is possible in such a short time.  The area had previously been a disused overgrown waste area of the school.

Eco Schools
This has also been underway for less than 12 months and the school is already on its Silver Award and looking towards its first Green Flag next year.  The driving force behind the Eco School plan is the Eco Committee consisting of 9 students and 2 teachers.  The school has major projects operating in Waste Management, Energy, Biodiversity, Water and Healthy Living.  There was evidence of all these projects throughout the school.  The real message here is Eco School is pupil lead.  There is not the legislative requirement to become an Eco School in Northern Ireland as there is in Scotland.  Travelling through Ireland earlier in the week the vast majority of Irish schools had Green Eco School flags flying.  It appears Northern Ireland is beginning to head in the same direction.

The healthy living project included a district competition “Green Mile” sponsored by the local government authority.  Students from competing schools either rode or walked to school for a week.  Records of distances were kept and submitted in two categories... most distance travelled and average distance per student. 

It is encouraging to see what can be achieved in such a short time with the whole school behind the project.
Link to more pictures. 

Friday, June 25, 2010

Bonfire Night

Last night at midnight huge bonfires were lit across the west of Ireland.  There was a large one opposite where we were staying.  The whole town came out to watch it burn.  Bonfire Night is an annual celebration held on the 23rd June (St. John’s Eve). The celebrations take place in towns and villages across the country and centred around the summer solstice.  Today I’m at Fairview primary in Belfast which is a Forest School.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


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I'm now in Ireland heading to Northen Ireland where I will be visiting schools and also the Belfast Activity Centre .


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