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Letham Park and Eco-shelter

Three years of planning and fundraising has not always felt like child’s play, but the results delivered to the village of Letham have been warmly welcomed by the community. New play equipment has been installed, as well as a unique eco-friendly shelter built with help from local children. The project was made possible with grants awarded by LEADER in Fife, Fife Environment Trust, the Lottery and Fife Council, while materials and tools were donated by local businesses.  Children from the community raised money by washing cars.

eco shelter

The park plays an important role for the Secret Garden and is used as a meeting point before children and staff head off to the woods for the day. Dave Hamilton, policeman, chair of the Community Council (and fairy-tale author!) said; “It’s been a great effort by everyone involved to transform what was a tired and underused park into a fun and exciting place for adults as well as kids.”

eco shelter

Local community interest company, North Howe Transition Toun, helped build the new shelter. Tom Morton, chair of NHTT, who recently won Best Green Community initiative at the Scottish Green Awards, said: “In these tough times, this project shows how any community can come together to make their area a better place to live.”

The eco-shelter was designed by local architects and built by Little and Davie Construction, specialists in traditional building techniques.  The clay walls were built with the help of volunteers, mainly from the Secret Garden and Letham Primary School. Master builder, Becky Little, said: “Building with the children has been great fun, as well as educational and has created a building rooted in its community.”.

Churchill Travel Fellowship

Cathy Bache, our Lead Practitioner, was recently awarded a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship (www.wcmt.org.uk) to the USA, enabling her to spend six weeks exploring the role of the adult in creating stimulating, creative and resilient learning environments for children.

In the woods of the Secret Garden, Cathy has introduced mindfulness practice as a tool for observing and supporting the children in their discovery and play, assisting resilient and independent learning. Cathy’s research in the USA took her to several different educational and visionary organisations along the west coast where her explorations focussed on how the practice of mindfulness in an adult impacts on teaching success and learning outcomes for pupils.

Cathy also took part in programmes that support adult and child relationships in nature, both with the Colorado-based Animas Valley Institute (www.animas.org) and the Wilderness Awareness School (www.wildernessawareness.org) in Seattle. Cathy remarked “A common thread that wove its way through my Fellowship was seeing the power of adults and children sharing and reflecting in circles.” She has returned inspired and eager to learn more of ‘The Way of Council’, a practice of open, heartfelt expression and attentive, empathic listening, as taught by the Ojai Foundation in California.

Cathy's report from her travels can be found here.


Thanks to a £5000 grant from the Community Wildlife Fund at the Big Lottery, Letham Woods now has a new yurt for community use. Co-ordinated by the Secret Garden Outdoor Nursery, the yurt will provide shelter and warmth for the nursery when it uses the woods as well as providing a facility for Letham Woodland Group, Letham Primary School and the residents of Letham village and the surrounding area. It's purpose is to encourage the whole community to make more use of the woodlands and to support conservation work there.


The 18-foot yurt has been specially made from Highland trees using the most environmentally low impact methods available. It comes complete with pine double doors, a ground sheet and full insulation as well as a central stove and chimney.

The nursery’s famed pioneering spirit was much in evidence as parents, staff and children ignored continuous rain and wind, not to mention copious quantities of mud and ice, to help Paul Spencer of Highland Yurts to raise the yurt. Soup, heated over an open fire in the woods, was on hand for all.

“It’s fantastic”, said Tom Hedley, Secret Garden parent. “Not just a proper lasting shelter when conditions are really tough – previously the nursery has had to rely on tarps and a tent – but a really inspiring, magical space. The children already love it”.

Link to Play Scotland website

Play Scotland Award for Best Practice Provision

On Thursday 20th November 2008, Cathy Bache and Carol Day (Secret Garden Chairperson) attended the Play Scotland Conference ‘Play Ranges’. Cathy gave a presentation entitled ‘Courage, Commitment and Creativity’. After the main presentation of the day, Bob Hughes’ Play Types and Associated Considerations, Margaret Westwood, Chairperson Play Scotland, presented Cathy with a Play Scotland Achievement Award for ‘Best Practice in Action’. Bob Hughes presentation was the highlight for Cathy and Carol as it was a researched interpretation of what we do at The Secret Garden on a daily basis, with some gems of thought around origins of play and the engagement with archetypes in play. The whole day was inspiring with an energetic element: outdoor cooking, ‘loose parts’ play, and a look at urban and rural outdoor play from Glasgow and Ayrshire Councils.

Nancy Ovens Award

On Saturday 6th September 2008 Harris and George (the first ever Secret Gardeners) travelled to Glasgow with their mums Paula and Katie to attend the Nancy Ovens Awards for Play ceremony at ‘House for an Art Lover’ in Bellahouston Park. The award for ‘Outstanding Contribution to Play’ was presented to Cathy Bache and The Secret Garden by Adam Ingram MSP, Minister for Children and Early Years. The receiving of this award was very timely: 2 days before opening as a fulltime nursery with new staff and children. All involved in The Secret Garden see this as positive validation of the commitment, courage and creativity that has gone into realising the vision of outdoor play and care here in Scotland. George and Harris had a great time playing in the park and Cathy, Stephanie, Katie and Paula had the opportunity to meet other play enthusiasts. The Secret Garden now has a very fine plaque installed in the woods!