Headteacher with a special link to Stansfeld
Andy Spooner is sitting on a stool in our Exploration Zone, keeping one eye on his Year 3 pupils who are zipping about between hands-on exhibits, while also trying to pose for a photograph and play with the circuit board challenge in front of him.
Andy is Headteacher at St Nicolas Primary School in Abingdon and he’s here at Stansfeld Park with a school group who have come for their first visit to the new Science Oxford Centre.
There’s a sense of deja vu about today for him; Andy’s sitting exactly where he sat when he first visited the Stansfeld site some thirty years ago – except that then it wasn’t a shimmering new exhibition space but a wooden lodge-style building complete with musty games rooms, an old school bell and an adjoining accommodation block that had already seen better days.
The Stansfeld Outdoor Education Centre, as it was known until 2016 when The Oxford Trust bought the site, was owned by Birmingham City Council and provided a ‘rural’ venue for school residential trips. With 15 acres of woodland, it was a perfect location to bring children for five days of outdoor activities and adventure.
Andy grew-up just outside of Birmingham – in Sutton Coldfield – and attended the local primary school. He visited Stansfeld for his Year 7 residential week. “I remember that our coach parked up on Quarry Road and we had to carry our luggage all the way up the drive, not really knowing what was at the top” he says. “But the moment we came around the last bend and I saw the five-a-side pitch, I knew I was going to have a good time!”
Andy and his classmates spent hours charging around the woods, collecting wildlife specimens for closer inspection, investigating the pond life and even carrying out traffic surveys in Headington and Oxford – as well as playing a lot of football obviously.“We stayed in dormitories and it was probably a nightmare for the teachers. I was a bit wild as a kid and got pulled out for not sleeping when I was supposed to.” But something very positive about his stay must have imprinted on Andy as he developed a keen interest in the outdoors and in geography especially. He went on to complete a geography degree at Oxford Brookes University and carry out his PGCE the following year.
Serendipitously, twenty years later, Andy found himself back on Quarry Road. Now a qualified primary school teacher, living in Headington and teaching at Windmill Primary School, he stopped at the top of that same drive and thought ‘this looks familiar’.
Since then Stansfeld has continued to play a peripheral role in Andy’s life. His children attended Quarry Nursery, located just round the corner and he used to bring his son up for forest school sessions in the woodland. “Then about four years ago” he says, “I heard Cllr Roz Smith talking about the outdoor education centre and the news that Birmingham were selling the land to help make up a shortfall in their budget. I knew the value of the site and so joined her campaign to prevent it being sold off to a housing developer.” So how did he feel when he heard the news that the Trust had bought Stansfeld? “I was relieved and delighted. We really hoped that something like this would be created.”
For many it might be the first time they’ve ever had the freedom to really properly explore, to feel inspired about science.”
And now it has, Andy seems suitably impressed with the Science Oxford Centre. “What’s fantastic about this centre is that it opens up opportunities for all children to develop lifelong skills. For many it might be the first time they’ve ever had the freedom to really properly explore, to feel inspired about science.” And with that, he’s gone, heading out to re-explore the woodland that he once roamed with his Year 7 mates. The five-a-side pitch may have disappeared but many of the pathways and ponds remain, as do Andy’s memories of a very special location.