The Facilitators

Sara Asadullah

Many strands of life and work have come together, bringing me to Free We Grow!

After studying Archaeology and Anthropology at university, I became passionate about the right to self-determination for communities. I began learning how to facilitate participatory processes, using video as a tool for consensus-building – enabling groups to explore and represent important issues, be creative together, and make films that spark locally-led change. Over 13 years, numerous participatory video projects took me to many countries and contexts, increasingly working with youth groups: young people in urban and rural areas in Asia and Africa; school children in Southwark and Lambeth; youth theatre groups in Kent; young people in museums and cultural organisations; migrant communities and ESOL learner groups.

During all these projects, the aspects I loved most were when I was supporting the groups to build a sense of togetherness, to learn through doing, to experiment and collaborate. I enjoyed holding space for individuals to grow in confidence, to try new things out, and broaden their perspectives. I found delight in picking up on their interests and being able to contribute new things in response, to keep the flow of enthusiasm moving. I found great reward in being there while individuals faced difficulties and overcame them. These are key aspects of being a facilitator for me, and it is a privilege to accompany the children at Free We Grow through these times in their lives.

As a parent, I grew to understand self-directed learning through observing my daughter. When she is allowed time to follow her play urges, learn at her own pace and through her own style, she is confident and solid in her knowledge and capacity. She takes this assurance into her next endeavours, building her autonomy and self-reliance. Trusting her means she can become more responsible for herself and her actions. These are the elements that are most important to me about holding space for the children at Free We Grow.

Joining a local Nature Play group in Sydenham woods, allowed me to experience how nature provides an environment that is balancing and stimulating at the same time, for children and adults alike. Inspired by what I learnt through observing children at nature play, I became a session host and started to work as a Forest School Leader with school children in South London. I see connection to nature as central to well-being, and it is a gift to be based at Dacres Wood, where the children can experience themselves as part of the natural world.

The Free We Grow community has created a space where the children can grow through connection to the real world, with real people all around, and I’m lucky to be sharing my interests and experience with them, and learning from theirs. I love: playing and connecting; talking and wondering about the world, and doing this through music, dancing, drama; reading poetry and stories; making photography and video projects; understanding different cultural perspectives; being in nature, and having fun sharing all this with others!

Rowan Salim

As a geographer, I’m fascinated by the relationship we have with the world around us; how we understand it, interrelate with it and live sustainably within it. For me Dacres Wood is the result of years of searching for a more harmonious way in which our children can grow connected to the world around them.

As a gardener, I recognise the rhythms and cycles, the pace and the patience, the balance and the symbiosis, the uniqueness of every seed and the nurture of the soil. For me Dacres’ Wood is about letting every child grow, with care, love and attention, looking for the permaculture of learning.

As a humanitarian, I learnt the limitations of trying to help and the importance of recognising my own agency, to make room so that people can find their own solutions and paths, growing stronger through that process. The democratic and humanistic ethos of Dacres’ Wood is about creating that space for self-directed learning where children take responsibility for their own decisions and grow as part of a community, and where my role as a facilitator or mentor is not imposed but there when called upon.

As an educator I understand that children are born with the innate capacity to learn and the need to do so, that they will seek out knowledge and understanding in their own ways, following developmental phases.  I understand the value of pedagogy and that teachers come in many shapes, sizes and ages. That the most important thing to learn is learning how to learn and developing an understanding of self and self-esteem through that process. At Dacres’ Wood, our emergent curriculum, our connection to the local community and our mixed age range all facilitate children’s diverse learning paths.

As an aunt, a sister and a daughter, I love playing. I love the giggles, the tickles and the quizzical puzzles; I love the euphoric eurekas, the shrieks of laughter and the heartfelt tears that remind me every day that life is worth living. The best thing I can do for those around me is to be myself, and at Dacres Wood, we want to live life with integrity.



Marita Sanguinetti

Facilitator 2019

I have worked with children of all ages since I was 16 years old;  from teaching children with special needs to ride horses in London’s Kentish Town City Farm,  teaching in a home for young offenders on Dartmoor in Devon, to directing my own Meditation Dance School in The UK and Europe. During this time I developed a specialised dance system for children of all ages. This system creates a place where young people can come and be listened to, relax, feel accepted and valued, and have lots of fun. My approach to working with children stimulates enthusiasm and imagination, motivating both girls and boys of all ages to achieve heath, wellbeing and happiness by increasing confidence, communication abilities, self-esteem and creative life skills. I work towards encouraging confidence in children and young people to realise their full potential.
I understand the creative arts as all being forms of meditation. I believe that meditation is a practice that allows us to have the presence and clarity of mind and depth of heart to see the world with a truer perspective.
I am so happy to have the opportunity to share this with Free We Grow.
For me Free we Grow is set in an ideal, beautiful and natural environment where children can breathe, play and be themselves, guided by professional facilitators that care and help them find their own paths toward the life they deserve.
I am a mother and recently became a grandmother. When my children were small, and now through my little grandson and all the children I have known, I learnt and am still learning every day, to be present and mindful with love and kindness. Children are my greatest teachers.

Sally Hall

Facilitator from 2017 – 2019

I discovered the concept of Democratic Education during my PGCE teacher training, when I became inspired by the book ‘Freedom to Learn’ by Carl Rogers, a psychologist and advocate of student-centred learning. From there, I became passionate about the idea that children learn much more intensely and effectively when they can learn at their own rhythm and on their own terms. It also became clear to me that having a say in the decisions that affect them means that children can learn to take responsibility for their actions and their environment.

Upon qualifying as a teacher of Modern Foreign Languages at Secondary level, I worked as an English facilitator at La Croisée des Chemins, a democratic school for ages 4 to 19 in Dijon, France. During my year at the school, as well as sharing my native language and culture, and taking part in the day-to-day life of the school, I helped to set up a local youth club based on the principles of self-directed learning, freedom and responsibility. I also volunteered my time during the founding stages of Sudbury School Paris.

I have had the opportunity to visit many democratic schools and educational projects in the UK and abroad. In addition to my work as Facilitator at Free We Grow, I work part-time for the Phoenix Education Trust, a small charity that seeks to promote democratic education in the UK.

For me, the work of a Facilitator at Free We Grow means to listen deeply to and reflect on the individual needs of each child and to create a safe and enriching environment for them to learn and develop at their own pace. It means to identify when to step in if a child needs a helping hand, whilst maintaining a space in which children can navigate their own path. It means being an authentic human being and role-model; striving to be the best example of myself and sharing my skills, interests, ideas and experience with the community. Finally, it is to look for ways in which to reveal to the children all the incredible things that there are to discover about the world outside, and lighting the spark of inspiration!