Mention Harrogate and most people tend to think of an affluent, historic spa town, full of genteel buildings and grand open spaces, surrounded by lush countryside.
Other might think of it as the home to Slingsby Gin, Yorkshire Tea or Betty’s posh tea rooms. Almost no-one associates Harrogate with social problems or deprivation. Yet here you’ll find the latest addition to the Wellspring Trust family – the Grove Academy, formerly the Harrogate Pupil Referral Unit.
The Grove Academy has been looking after vulnerable young people – from those excluded from school with social and emotional difficulties, to those who are experiencing mental health difficulties – for twenty years and is proud of its enviable record of success.
The Grove works hard to inspire its young people to believe they can turn their lives around. Currently, the school has 32 excluded KS3 and 4 pupils on its roll and given the local demand could treble that number if facilities allowed. Although originally designed to be a short term intervention, the Grove has increasingly become a long stay school with around two-thirds of its pupils having been at the school for 2-3 years. The school offers a varied academic and vocational curriculum; which emphasises a therapeutic and nurturing approach to learning that places great emphasis on personal development, creativity and a love of the natural world.
The school has a thriving arts scene with inspirational teachers using painting, sculpture, textiles and a range of crafts to promote self reflection and personal growth in children who have often experienced traumatic early years’ experiences. Similarly, the therapeutic value of being in the natural world is an integral part of the Grove’s culture. Despite being located in a cramped 1960’s nuclear bunker – yes, the urban legend is true – our young people enjoy a wide range of outdoor experiences, including hiking, camping, mountain biking, sailing,
rock climbing and orienteering.
The school has always been committed to reconnecting its young people with their community and has forged strong local links. For example, the school runs land-based studies courses in conjunction with the local conservation group; the Grove’s young people work alongside volunteers to help preserve the beauty of Nidd Gorge, whilst also learning more about ecology, local wildlife and bush-craft.
Popular wisdom says never work with children and animals, yet the Grove takes the risk with both to help further develop the individual’s sense of connection to a wider society. The centre has close links with the local primary school, where Year 11 students often work with small groups of young children, often leading them on outdoor education visits. The school also works collaboratively with a local stable where KS4 students can work with horses, often helping to take disabled children riding. The experience of looking after animals or young
children is part of the Grove’s commitment to helping its young people develop as more broad-minded and compassionate human beings who can give back to the community that has helped them.
Thanks to its dedicated staff and a strong nurturing ethos, the Grove has retained an ‘outstanding’ judgement over four Ofsted inspections, most recently in 2015 and 2019. The school has striven to maintain its culture of excellence despite much turbulence in recent years which has seen successive budget cuts, the loss of half its staff and the closing of one of its sites, despite ever growing demand for its services from local schools.
The final blow came last year with a 75% budget cut. Despite a passionate campaign by staff that drew national attention and widespread community support, the Grove was due to close at Christmas 2019. However, at the eleventh hour, the Wellspring Trust came to our rescue and agreed to sponsor the Academy. Thus, on the 1st April 2020, the Grove formally became a Wellspring School.
Although painful choices and changes still lie ahead, there is now real hope of a better future for the school and the community it serves. As we tell our students, the past does not have to define your future. Already extensive refurbishment plans are well-advanced, which will transform the centre into a modern and attractive learning environment. Joining Wellspring has not only saved the school, but has allowed the school to become part of a learning community of like minds and shared values. The school has always been committed to reconnecting its young people with their community and has forged strong local links.
Hopefully, this article has given you a glimpse of what makes the Grove special. If you are ever in Harrogate, you are welcome to pop in, see what we do and take a tour of the bunker. Whilst we can’t offer you a gin, we might treat you to a strong Yorkshire cuppa and a fat rascal!
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