There is a shocking fluorescent pink blot on Constable’s landscape. It has matching spectacularly clean wellies and a camera slung around its neck. The laughter of the ‘A’level students, resonates through the silent Flatford Mill grounds in Suffolk.
A squadron of bomber ducks collide with the slightly shimmering water on the education centre’s pond, commanding a shoal of fish to skip like pebbles strewn across the surface. The faint smell of otter spraint lingers in the air, a majestic grey heron stands to attention watching vigilantly at the edge of the bank.
An inspiration to Constable and to numerous students, both adults and children who come to ‘learn’ at what has been for nearly sixty years, an F.S.C. (Field Studies Council) centre.
These are the ‘adult customers of the future’ said Mr Edward Jackson, who is Head of the centre at Flatford Mill. Furthermore, the under eighteens make up the majority (75 – 80%) of customers at the mill with adult learners making the remainder. But with the majority demanding the need for more modern technologies and facilities and the desperate need to improve facilities for people with limited mobility, is there a future for the awe-inspiring setting of John Constables’ most famous work The Haywain in the modern world?
Mr Jackson is also the chief Campaigner for Flatford Mill and has battled for the past year and a half to secure £700,00 of the £1.4 million to make the much needed enhancements to bring the facilities of the 18th century mill into the 21st century, for phase one of the project. With all planning permission granted, the historic and prestigious mill is now rapidily running out of time to secure the remaining money. Currently, admitted Mr Jackson the centre is ‘not fully DDA compliant’ and that there is ‘a big gap to provide for people with disabilities’. The funding will bridge that gap by enabling those with disabilities to gain access to currently inaccessible wildlife havens where they can see a variety of habitats and animals, not least five of those listed on the BAP (Biodiversity Action Plan) list and it will enable the centre to have places for people in wheelchairs. This then would bring Flatford Mill in line with the F.S.C’s philosophy of ”Bringing Environmental Understanding to All’.
The F.S.C has an impressive track record of developing environmental understanding for children from the lowest performing education authorities to enable them to be more proactive and involved in green spaces at home.
One student at the mill said ‘ once you come here you can appreciate your home more, I can’t charge my phone or plug in my hair straighteners in case I set off the fire alarm’. Three bathrooms are shared by thirteen students and while the meals are wholesome and filling they still order in pizza. All were inspired by the natural surroundings and wildlife.
Without upgrading to modern facilities, Flatford Mill may have to close. Resulting not only in the loss of the ability to inspire, enthuse and educate tomorrow’s budding ecologists, but also Suffolk’s most notorious historic grounds and its inhabitants could be lost forever.
For further information on the Campaign to save Flatford Mill or to donate:
Head of centre: Mr Edward Jackson
Flatford Mill Field Centre
Tel: 0845 330 7368
Fax: 01206 298892