Lord-Lieutenant visits Courteenhall Estate to meet New Leaf Learning graduates

8th Feb 2024

The Lord-Lieutenant of Northamptonshire visited Courteenhall Estate today to see the pioneering work being done by New Leaf Learning in our grounds.

HM Lord-Lieutenant James Saunders Watson met Alex Preston, founder of the Northamptonshire charity, and presented seven school children with certificates for completing the TRUST Programme.

New Leaf Learning supports primary school aged children across Northamptonshire who are struggling to engage in education. Founded by Alex and piloted at Courteenhall Estate, the charity uses nature-based outdoor learning techniques to help students with anxiety and trauma to become more confident and gives them safe spaces to thrive.

Each child goes through the TRUST Programme, which stands for Trying, Resilience, Understanding & empathy, Self-regulation and Teamwork.

They all take part in slackline, den-building, whittling, gardening, cooking, animal welfare, pond-dipping and fire in the grounds of the Estate during the programme. Every session includes learning self-regulation techniques through breathing properly, yoga and meditation with accredited trainers. The children are immersed in nature, learning new self-nurture skills, as well as helping to look after plants and animals. 

After two years of research-based trials with primary schools across the county, the charity held its launch event at Courteenhall in September last year.

Parents of children who have taken part have praised the programme for the difference it makes and said ‘it should be part of the school curriculum and every child’s childhood’.

Dr Johnny Wake, Managing Partner of Courteenhall Estate and also Chair of Trustees for New Leaf Learning, said: “New Leaf Learning is an incredible charity that is making a real difference to individual children in Northamptonshire.

“Each small group that comes takes part in a wide range of activities including art in the Arboretum, talks from members of the Courteenhall team about regenerative and sustainable farming and they learn about the Countryside Code in relation to our livestock.

“We’d like to grow the service, to reach and help more children, and we’re looking for businesses who would like to get involved and support the programme.”

Lord-Lieutenant James Saunders Watson, who presented each of the seven children with their certificates and heard about each child’s achievements during his visit, said: “I was delighted to visit the New Leaf Learning project at Courteenhall and to see for myself the wonderful work the programme provides for young people. 

“The TRUST programme is proving so effective in helping those young children who have found engagement with the education system a challenge. I was so pleased to have been invited to present the graduation certificates today.”

New Leaf Learning founder Alex Preston said: “We were all very excited to meet the Lord-Lieutenant and the children enjoyed receiving their certificates from him.

“We have seen dramatic changes in the children during the programme. They have grown in confidence, started to understand the things that affect their behaviour, and have learned how to work together as a team.

“This group of children have particularly enjoyed learning to use tools like saws and drills, and they have been able to watch the people of Courteenhall using heavy machinery, which has inspired them to think about what they would like to do when they are older.

“A large part of the learning is how to manage some very challenging emotions. Each child has taken part in yoga every week for five weeks, so they now have strategies in their toolbox to manage tricky moments when they come up in life.

“Their parents and carers are also seeing positive changes in their children's self-esteem and ability to manage their strong feelings. Often our children have experienced adversity in their young lives, and The TRUST Programme offers an opportunity to reset and recharge whilst being surrounded by nature in the stunning environment of Courteenhall Estate.

“Already their teachers have told us that some of the children are able to engage better in their learning in the classroom. For others the process may take a little longer, but staff are now equipped with the strategies needed and they can continue to use these back at school.

“We would love to offer this opportunity to as many children in the county as possible, and we hope that this visit from the Lord-Lieutenant will attract attention not only from the local education community but also from local businesses who might consider New Leaf Learning as a charity that they would like to support.”

NHS England statistics show that 18% of children aged 7-16 years have a mental health disorder. It means that teachers are working in classrooms where one in five children may be unable to access education.

What the children said about the programme:

  • It’s been the best experience of my life. I like getting to be outside.
  • The best bit is that I've made new friends.
  • At TRUST there are people that listen to you and you never get in trouble. It’s only prompting, reminding and encouraging.
  • I've learnt not to give up.
  • If we don't want to join in, we can find a safe space until we are ready.
    We go outside and we make dens, and we build. We do lots of fun stuff.
    There are a lot of animals on the farm and I like to stroke them and feed them.

Feedback from the parents of children on the programme:

  •  We have noticed a profound change in our little boy. He is keen to try difficult things now, is getting better at verbalising his feelings and is using coping strategies learned to regulate himself. This has been an incredibly valuable experience for him.
  • We’ve noticed a positive difference in our son. He’s much calmer in communicating his feelings and aware of how he’s feeling. We’re also much more aware of how he’s likely to be feeling and are handling things differently, and it is working! Thank you for everything you’ve done for him. He’ll miss the activities and staff/volunteers tremendously.
  • I just wanted to say a big thank you for all that you and your team have taught our son. He’s open to trying new things, is getting better at regulating himself and we’ve both looked back through his journal tonight and visually seen the difference. He has emoji faces he circles to describe how he’s felt that day, and since spending time at Courteenhall, the angry and upset faces have been circled twice, whereas before he circled those nearly every day. It was so lovely to hear what was said about him by the Lord Lieutenant and seeing his face light up as he heard his achievements. He’s so proud of what he has learned and achieved, and rightly so. I think that the TRUST programme should be part of the school curriculum and every child’s childhood. Thank you so much.




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