At Dacres Wood

The educational space At Dacres Wood arose from the desire of the creators of Free We Grow to offer children the possibility to freely explore their own ways of learning to learn and to grow in a democratic environment connected to nature and the world around us.

In this environment, children’s time for free play, exploration, imagination, and the pursuit of their individual or group interests is respected. We foster a culture where adults and children learn from each other and create space for dialogue through meetings and open communication. Our approach is based on the values of integrity, authenticity, and respect for one another as human beings, and as a community, we will strive to model these values.

We are based at Dacres Wood Nature Reserve in Forest Hill.


Children: Ages between 5 – 11 years
We have a limited number of spaces available for 5-year-olds whose applications will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Operating hours: From 9:30am – 3:00pm
Operating days: Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays

Term calendar 2021/2022:

 Autumn Term 2021 (12 weeks) September 15- October 22
Half Term Break (27 – 29 October)
November 3- December 10
 Spring Term 2022 (11 weeks) January 5- February 11
Half Term Break (February 16 – 18)
February 23 – March 25 (5 weeks)
Easter Break (March 30 – April 15)
Summer Term 2022 (10 weeks) April 20 – May 27
Half Term (June 1 – June 3)
June 8 – July 1


Term calendar 2022/2023:

 Autumn Term 2022 (12 weeks) September 14  – October 21
Half term break (October 26-28)
November 2 – December 9
 Spring Term 2023 (11 weeks) January 4  – February 10
Half term break (February 15-17)
February 22 – March 24
Easter break (March 29 – April 14)
Summer Term 2023 (10 weeks) April 19 – May 26
Half term (May 31- June 2)
June 7 – June 30


Lunch and Snacks: Children bring their own lunch and drink each day.
Fresh fruit will be provided.
Fees : Detailed information can be found under Term fees

Vision and principles

Free We Grow’s project At Dacres Wood is inspired by democratic and humanistic principles and endeavours to create a culture of trust and confidence. Through its democratic mechanisms, it creates spaces where children can raise questions and concerns in a safe environment and where they learn to express themselves, listen to others, and take responsibility for their decisions and the well-being of their community.


We believe that the world is a fascinating place, and that if children (and adults) spend time in the world, in nature, within communities, in a supportive and trusting environment, they will grow to care for each other and the world around them. The vision of the project At Dacres Wood is:

A democratic environment embedded in and connected to the world around us where children can grow socially competent and ecologically mindful and where their innate curiosity and instinct to play and learn is trusted and nurtured.


  • We trust and respect our children’s interests and decisions
  • We provide a space where children feel safe, listened to and respected
  • We provide room and space for free-play, imagination, exploration
  • We create an engaging environment with activities in which our children have the opportunity to interact with the world around us
  • We offer the space and support for children to learn about their rights as children and citizens, as well as create situations in which these can be put into practice

Spaces of engagement

Free we Grow (FWG) is a community of children who meet three days a week at Dacres’ Wood Nature Reserve in South East London. It is inspired by the idea that the best way to learn and grow is in the real world, and hence we have a loose structure which reflects the spaces where any human will spend their life – namely at home, visiting, hosting, and collaborating.  These spaces are not fixed in place and time but are fluid and interweave.

The Home Space

The majority of our time at FWG is spent at home, at Dacres’ Wood. This is the space where the children, whether as individuals or as a community, decide for themselves how to spend their time and what rules bind us together. On a day to day basis this takes the form of play and self-directed activities.  We use a slowly growing array of resources which we’ve acquired as and when the need for them has emerged. We also spend a lot of time in the forest, playing, exploring, climbing, building, running, making and doing. During the daily meeting, children may share their plans for the day to invite collaboration, or ask for help if needed. The meeting is also the forum in which our rules of engagement are established and where issues are discussed. It is an active forum where our culture is daily formed and where the children are the leading agents in its formation.  The meeting is led by the children and depending on the topic, decisions are made democratically or sociocratically using a tool called ‘roundspeak’. Ad-hoc issues which emerge can be resolved by calling a ‘small meeting’, which any member of the community can do if they are unable to resolve a problem independently. Other members of the community can be invited to help mediate these meetings. As the nature reserve is also a home for wildlife and is enjoyed by other user groups during other days of the week, our home dynamics are inevitably also influenced by a growing appreciation and understanding of the nature of the space itself.

The Visiting Space

When we’re not at home, we’re out; and being out in the world we come into contact with other people, places, knowledge, ideas, approaches and feelings. While we have a coherent culture at home, we learn to adapt to other spaces and groups when we are visiting. While we know and understand the mechanisms for bringing about a change in culture at home, this is more complex when visiting other spaces, as the nature of our individual and group agency changes. By observing different ways of being, we reflect on our own mechanisms and ways of being, and we see choices, we grow and learn. The visits we take part in are not created, manufactured or designed to ‘educate’ the children. To the extent possible, we seek to be responsive and facilitate visits which emerge out of real interests. We also naturally connect to our local environment and community as an extension to our home space by visiting local parks and amenities and getting to know our neighbours.

The Hosting Space

The third space is the Hosting Space. When we’re not home alone, or out in the world, we may host.  The children’s interests lead to a desire to engage with others and hence we invite guests. Many of these guests are parents, family members and friends who have a particular expertise, skill or passion and we are in the process of developing a library of skills to map this.   As we occupy a nature reserve and there are also many reasons why people may want to use the space for their own interests. Hence we aim to embrace these genuine interests by hosting artists, ecologists, conservation volunteers, persons interested in democratic education, or others who may want to use the space for their own genuine place related projects. As hosting can have an impact on the stability of the home culture, this space is developing gradually and always consensually.

The Buzz Space

The Buzz Space is the space for collaboration and recognises that as a democratic community we need to be able to take decisions and work together to make larger projects happen. The Buzz space is therefore an intentional space designed to facilitate interest driven group or whole community projects. A buzz space can be initiated by a random conversation between two community members, who decided to bring an idea to the meeting, propose a project, and find collaborators with whom to work. For example, when the idea to have a Christmas Show was suggested at a meeting and voted through, a Buzz Space was created through which the program was arranged, the roles were allocated and the logistics were managed. Or when the cost of a proposed trip was prohibitive, the children together organised a stall, prepared crafts and snacks to sell and raised over half the cost of the trip, allowing it to take place. Through the Buzz space, ideas for visits and hostings are planned out. The Buzz space takes the design of children’s group activities out of the facilitators’ hands and into the group’s control.  The mechanisms for managing buzz projects are in the process of being refined.

Role of Facilitators

Free We Grow facilitators “hold the space” at Dacres’ Wood. This primarily relates to ensuring that the community is safe and that its members feel free to engage in self direction and culture creation. They are present with the children on a day to day basis, getting to know each child, building relationships, getting to know their interests, observing and where appropriate engaging in play and social interactions. Our facilitators support children with their projects when they request support and they also bring their own projects to share with the children. Fundamentally, our facilitators are also members of the community. They are real people with real feelings, interests and beliefs. Their role is not to withhold their experiences, interests and worldviews, but rather to share their passion for life and knowledge, to act with integrity, and by being models, ensure that children feel safe in doing the same.

About FWG

Free we Grow Ltd. was created by a group of five parents: Denise, Emma, Lars, Tom and Sara, and our facilitator Rowan. The closure of the democratic school in South East London to which our children attended,  spurred us to create a new path for the education of our children and children in the community.

Free We Grow is registered as a company limited by guarantee offering an alternative education space which functions on democratic and humanistic principles. We offer childcare incidental to a home-education arrangement for children with a maximum of 16.5 hours per week. All children are home educated hence receive their full-time education outside Free We Grow.

Free We Grow Limited
Registered in England and Wales
Company number 10794105
26 Ewelme Road, Forest Hill,
SE23 3BH