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 dates 2023/2024:

 Autumn Term 2023 (12 weeks)13 September  – 20 October 
Half term break (21-31 October)
1 November  – 8 December 
Winter/Christmas holiday 9 December – 9 January
 Spring Term 2024 (10 weeks)10 January  – 9 February 
Half term break (10-20 February)
21 February – 22 March 
Spring/Easter holiday (23 March – 16 April)
Summer Term 2024 (11 weeks)17 April – 24 May 
Half term break (25 May – 11 June)
11 June – 12 July  

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 is inspired by the idea that the best way to learn and grow is in the real world, and hence we have adopted a 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

People spend time at home. Home feels familiar and safe, where you have the time and space to explore your interests, and where you have clear and direct agency in shaping your immediate environment and the agreements that bind you with those you share a home with.

At Free We Grow, Dacres Wood is our home space. The woodland, pond and outdoor space forms an integral part of what happens in the home space and how the children use their time.   This includes observing, playing, exploring, climbing, building, running, making, doing and being. The children also have free flow access to the indoor space where they can use a growing array of resources including arts and crafts materials, books, games, construction materials, woodworking tools, science lab kits and a basic kitchen.

In the home space children decide how they want to spend their time.  On a day to day basis this takes the form of play and individual or group activities. Facilitators and children can make offerings for home space activities.  During the daily meeting, children 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 formed and where the children are the leading agents in its formation.  At the meeting, decisions are made by consent using a tool called ‘roundspeak’. Ad-hoc issues which emerge during the day are resolved through talking and mediation.

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 and environments,  things,  knowledge and ideas. The visiting space is inspired by the idea of pilgrimage, where people walk away from what they know to discover something new. Leaving Dacres Wood and spending time in the neighborhood, visiting local amenities, exploring the local environment, and going further out into London and beyond, is a key part of life at Free We Grow and enriches our emergent curriculum.  Children and facilitators can propose forays. Visiting places within walking distance of Dacres Wood can happen on an ad hoc basis, and we usually also organize at least one bigger visit per half term. Visits relate to children’s interests or can be proposed by other members of the community and can include visiting other nature reserves, museums, libraries, parks and even friends’ houses!

The Hosting Space

As we go out into the world, we also receive! At Free We Grow, hosting guests forms part of our culture. The children can invite family members and friends and we also seek to invite visitors who can share their passions and interests with the children.  Occasionally, when children’s interests are technically specific, we reach out to our community to see if friends are able to support the children with their enquiries. Examples of this have included learning how to box, how to do architectural drawings, or how to build a brick wall.   As we are based in a nature reserve there are also many reasons why people may want to visit for their own interests. Hence we aim to embrace these genuine interests by hosting artists, ecologists, conservation volunteers and people interested in how Free We Grow functions.  As hosting can have an impact on the stability of the home culture, this space is developed gradually and always consensually.

The Buzz Space

The Buzz Space is the space for collaboration. It is an intentional space designed to facilitate interest driven group or whole community projects. A buzz project can be initiated by a conversation between two community members, who decide to bring an idea to the meeting, propose a project, and find collaborators with whom to work. For example, when the idea to have an end of year show was suggested at a meeting and agreed, a Buzz board 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 organized a stall, prepared crafts and snacks to sell and raised over half the cost of the trip, allowing it to take place. Sometimes the children become interested in a theme or topic, and regular classes can be arranged via the buzz space. For example, weekly first aid lessons and Arabic classes and lunchtime history and philosophy sessions have been organized through the Buzz space.

Role of Facilitators

Free We Grow facilitators “hold the space” at Dacres’ Wood. They ensure that the community is safe such 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. The best way we’ve found so far to describe the facilitator role is that of a ‘guardian of flow’, whereby their presence enables children to find and be in flow. See the blog article on Space Place and Time for more on this.  Our facilitators support children with their projects when needed 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

The story so far

Free We Grow started in 2017 when a group of parents who wanted their children to be able to experience a free, enabling, play and consent based learning environment connected with Rowan, who had been exploring how our learning environments affect our relationships with ourselves, each other and the land we live on.

We opened a learning community for children in Dacres Wood Nature reserve in South London. Soon were joined by new families and facilitators who share this vision and dream and who have together been working to enable this space to emerge and grow.

In 2023 Free We Grow is celebrating its 6th year. You can find stories of learning, play and the questions we’ve been asking ourselves in our blog, which we publish half termly. The original team has now changed with the founding families stepping down, and the holding team now includes Rowan, Sara Martins, a parent whose child attended in 2020 and who continues to support the project, Sara Asadullah, facilitator at Free We Grow from 2020-2021 and again now, Mariana, who is currently co-facilitating with Rowan; Yasmin and Anna, who are parents of current children.

We are looking to invite new  members to the holding team as time passes so that the project can continue to unfold.

Free We Grow Limited
Registered in England and Wales
Company number 10794105
12a Kirkdale, London
SE26 4NE