A FANTASTIC new interactive learning experience will soon be coming to schools in Ayrshire and Arran – bringing farm to fork learning into kids classrooms.

The new ‘Countryside Classroom on Wheels’ initiative by the regions Royal Highland Education Trust, will ensure that more school children will have the opportunity to experience farming life up close, especially those who may not have the opportunity to visit a farm themselves.

The portable trailer will be the first of its kind in the west coast and will contain pens for livestock, interactive boards for learning, as well as future plans for VR headsets to transport kids on to the farm in the safety of their own school.

RHET Ayrshire and Arran’s treasurer Christine Cuthbertson is behind the new idea - which has been in the works for the past two years - and comes at a crucial time when RHET has been temporarily closed with Covid and offers a unique opportunity to continue the vital work of the organisation in delivering key messages on food and farming to school kids.

“This is the first step back in to engaging with children,” said Christine. “It is a safer way to kickstart and take into schools during these uncertain times. This will never replace going on to farm, but it is to enhance the farm to fork story, so we can take it into schools and inspire pupils to hopefully go out on to farms.”

The trailer hasn’t been officially launched yet but hopes to be visiting schools later in the Autumn. It was hoped that the trailer would have been up and running for Ayr show but Covid slowed down the process.

“We want to make sure all children have accessibility to farming as logistically there have been problems in the past getting kid on to farms,” continued Christine. “Our ambition is to have every school connected with a farmer but also to be able to bring the countryside to them.

“We are so grateful to Ayrshire LEADER (Scottish Government and the Scottish Rural Development Programme) for the funding and recognition of the importance of engaging our young people with farming, food, our countryside and environment. This is a wonderful legacy project which will galvanise the connection between our communities and inspire our next generation.”

It has been a huge team effort in bringing this project together, involving trailer manufacturers and designers in Aberdeenshire, financial support from Ayrshire LEADER and various members of the local RHET committee. The SF caught up with some of the individuals who made it happen.

The Scottish Farmer:

(L-R) Michelle Breen, Jean Brown, Alistair Love, Christine Cuthbertson and Elaine Bryson

Programme coordinator for Ayrshire LEADER Elizabeth Dougall, commented: “We are delighted to have provided funding for the Country Classroom on Wheels. The classroom is a legacy LEADER purpose built, bio secure trailer, designed to bring livestock, crop and feed samples to the school playground with the aim of introducing pupils to farming, food production and the countryside. Raising Awareness of the kinds of animals and plants on Scottish farms.”

The new trailer was inspired by one which is operated by the Royal Northern Countryside Initiative and has been visiting schools and local agricultural events for the past six years. James and Mandy Stewart who are trailer manufacturers in Aberdeenshire were involved in building their trailer at the time and were contacted by Christine Cuthbertson two years ago to see if they would get involved with this new project with RHET in Ayrshire.

“Having been involved with the RNCI project a few years ago and seen the success of the trailer in the north, it sounded like a great idea that RHET Ayrshire and Arran were considering something similar,” said Mandy.

“We have always been very enthusiastic about educating children and the public at large about agriculture and it is a great way to get to more kids who might otherwise never have this opportunity.”

The Stewarts built the trailer and provided all of the artwork, which they kindly covered the costs for. Mandy pointed out that it was a specialist build for them and not something that can be bought off the shelf.

“My husband designed a lot of the build and Iro Schembri who works for us built the trailer, as he did the last one for RNCI – he is an incredibly talented fabricator.”

Philip Beattie who owns CP&Co graphic design company in Inverurie created all the artwork for the trailer which includes cartoon farm animals, and Rood signs - also in Inverurie - supplied the vinyl wrap.

“This has been in progress for two years,” continued Mandy. “We were all set to build at the start of the year but with Covid some of our suppliers closed down and we couldn’t get some of the parts. It is all back up and running now and we delivered it last week down to Ayrshire.”

The trailer itself contains two pens for livestock and has walkways at both ends which will allow kids to form a line and pass through safely. The Stewarts have also installed a stainless steel handwash basin for pupils to use on their way out of the trailer.

The Scottish Farmer:

The RNCI trailer visited over 5000 pupils in 2019

RNCI project manager Alison Johnston explained that their own trailer has proved to be the most amazing resource tool over the past six years: “When we turn up in a school playground, we can open it all out and usually have lambs or a calf in the pens and you hear the children saying to their friends ‘wow’, as for many, they may never have been this close to an animal. They might go to zoos and safari parks, but a lot of children don’t have a farm on their doorstep, or they can be full of big machinery which can be a dangerous place for a kid to wander about. Through the trailer, it gives a safe way for the children to learn about farming and if we can tie in a farm visit after, we will try to.”

Last year RNCI visited over 5000 school pupils with their trailer, covering Moray, Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen city.

Project co-ordinator for RHET Ayrshire and Arran, Elaine Bryson, explained what exciting new developments they plan to add to their trailer: “Our trailer is based on the brilliant RNCI model but we have taken the option to put power in it, so hopefully we can install some interactive boards and show kids what is happening at different times of the year on a farm. Often on a farm visit, kids can only see what is happening during that season, so this way we can take them through key times such as lambing and harvest.

“In today’s climate, if anything positive has come out of Covid-19, it is that people are more supportive of local producers and if we can enhance that by taking messages out to schools then job done, big tick!”

John McNae who owns agricultural engineering company John H Mcnae Limited has kindly offered to store the trailer and ensure that it is maintained for the road.

“Before the pandemic, we took tractors to some of the primary schools in the likes of Alloway, Tarbolton and Coylton and would show them to the weans,” said John. “I’ve always enjoyed getting involved with the schools and storing the trailer seemed like the next step in ensuring this en-gagement continued.

“We have a lot of customers coming in and out or our premises and we hope to display the trailer so people can see it and hope it sparks a conversation about what we are doing.”

John along with Christine is part of the local RSABI committee for the region and over the past ten years their group of six have raised an astonishing £100,000 between them to support the crucial work of the farming charity. John admitted that he can’t help but get involved with things in the local community, which are all working towards a similar goal of sharing vital messages around food and farming.

Dairy farmer and chair of RHET Ayrshire and Arran, Alistair Love, has been involved with taking school groups on to his farm since the initiative began in the region 20 years ago. He has had over 100 school groups visit in that period and treasures those visits as one of the ‘absolute perks’ of his job.

Read more - RSABI Ayrshire celebrates 10 years and £100,000 raised

“It is so rewarding when you have a group of kids on the farm who have never experienced any-thing like it. Children ask the best questions – I have had tougher questions from school visits than from any farmer, which keeps me on my toes.”

One which has stuck with Alistair for many years is when a primary five asked him ‘if your cows are black and white and grass is green, how is milk white?’ He is still mulling over the question to this day.

With Covid-19 preventing these trips on to farms, Alistair was so delighted when the initiative came together to create a Countryside Classroom on Wheels and he hopes with RHET in lockdown, it will help them to keep ensuring important message around food and farming continue to be delivered to school kids.

“It can be expensive getting buses to farms for visits but with this new trailer it has given us this unique opportunity to take the countryside to the classroom,” John continued. “We can park in the car park and the entire school can go in and out and have a brief introduction to farming - which otherwise many pupils might never get a chance to do.

“It might be the first time they see a cow up close and realise it has four stomachs – it is moments like these that we deliver really key messages about farming and dispel any myths about what we do.”

Executive Officer of RHET, Katrina Barclay added: "This is a fantastic, well thought out and very eye catching piece of kit for schools to access across the Ayrshire and Arran area. The local RHET committee and coordinators have put a lot of consideration into how to make the best use of this mobile classroom, giving school pupils a taster of farming in their local area.

"RHET works hard to find ways to bring food and farming learning to life for Scotland’s young people," she continued. Mobile units like this can be a great way to spark interest in crop and livestock production in the schools own playground. The teaching resources available to supplement learning experiences can help keep the learning going whilst covering so many subjects in the curriculum. Hopefully this classroom on wheels will also encourage pupils to visit a real working farm with RHET.

"We are delighted this classroom on wheels will join the others dotted across the country, but we have a long way to go to have one in every region, so if any companies or businesses out there would like to help us custom build one in their area, please get in touch, we would love to hear from you," she concluded."