Jane Downing’s motto is the old adage; ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.’ And it’s the perfect fit for her business where she spends a majority of her life out in the open and in the elements, which, thankfully, she loves!
Jane Downing runs Ace Forest School which she says; ‘Is all about reconnecting people with nature’. Based near St Helens, Ace Forest Schools runs activities for children, all of which take place outdoors. Her mission is clear; ‘The current generation of children are at real risk of losing all connection with nature and the outdoors. It is so important that children remain connected with the natural world because if they are connected they will care. Going outdoors regularly helps keep people health and happy. By starting young, a lifelong habit of heading outdoors is created, this means the future generation will care for the natural world and will increase their own health and wellbeing.’
For the past ten years, Jane has always worked in an educational capacity whether it was voluntary, paid, working with children in care or teaching, and then began to use Forest Schools as part of her teaching once she had discovered it. She says; ‘I’ve always got children outside as much as I possibly can and as I my teaching progressed, I discovered Forest School.
Jane and the Forest School Association (FSA) define it as; ‘Forest School is a philosophy. In a sentence it is about children going outside to achieve and develop confidence and self-esteem through hands-on learning experiences in a woodland environment.’ Currently there are a number of different models of Forest Schools, with some nurseries being entirely based around outside activities and a growing number of businesses cropping up to support the school curriculum with outside learning.
Jane started Ace Forest School at the start of 2015, taking the idea of it from her hometown, as Forest School’s seem more popular across the South West as they originally came in through Bridgewater College in the 1990’s. Now they are spreading, and Jane has established a niche client base for her work here in Merseyside, booking not only children’s parties and activities, but even taking booking such as hen do’s!
But as with many women in business, Jane noted that one of the challenges of starting her own business was ‘the fear’, the fear and anxiety in putting yourself outside of your comfort zone; ‘The fear just rears its ugly head when you least expect it! And it’s been something that I have overcome gradually. I did lots of research around this area and found that so many other women in business cite ‘the fear’ as a barrier.’ Thankfully Jane is currently keeping the fear under control and pursuing her new business with passion!
Of running her own business Jane says’ ‘I’ve never done anything like this before, so at the beginning I wanted to keep it quite straight forward and make it as stress free as possible’, so she began by marketing herself to the general public, before making the move to connecting with schools and establishing a connection there. Her aims for the future are to make Ace Forest School as accessible as possible for everybody. Having seen the massive health benefits of Forest School, Jane has big plans of franchising so that business men and women can buy into her business and receive everything that they need to set up their own Forest School.
Many Forest School practitioners complete a course with the FSA which gives them the confidence and knowledge to start their own Forest School, but Jane says; ‘You can do the course, but you then have to find the land, find money, and find support and all the other things you need to start a business. Also, things like your insurance and everything else – it isn’t that simple. So if I could franchise that, and make it into an easy package, that would be great.’
But support is something that Jane was able to find from The Women’s Organisation! She discovered us online and came along to an Open Day where she was paired up with one of our Senior Business Advisers, Huda Mamoun. ‘I said to Huda, that I needed someone who was going to be there to help me all the way through. I didn’t want business support that had a set expiry date! Huda said I could have support for 3 weeks, 6 months or 10 years! I was so relieved and it’s so reassuring that she is there.’
Jane also joined our Training Coordinator, Bernie Cox on different Social Media courses and Planning for Success; ‘It’s been absolutely wonderful and I’m lucky to have found it.’
If you would like to speak to us about starting your own business, or accessing any of the support that we provide, then you can get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or telephoning 0151 706 8111