Market Drayton,

THE BIRKS NEWS

Walking Birks

Hamish Armytage reports on a visit in January 2022.

The Birks is a large two story building on several levels that sits at the end of a forestry track in the Valley of Duddon in the Lake District. It began its life as a farmhouse, probably more than 400 years ago, but now has a special relationship with Market Drayton, and is undergoing a transformational change to a 21st Century field centre.

Its connection with Market Drayton began in 1967 when the Grove School boldly grasped the opportunity to rent it from the Forestry Commission. In the years that followed, every Grove student was offered a chance to spend a few days in residence. Over that period the school made improvements, and so was able to buy the property outright at a favourable rate in 1985. The Birks is now held in charitable trust.

The Birks

As Steve Murphy, trustee of the charity ‘Friends of Grove school’, puts it: “The Birks is entering its third phase of existence. It is now an outdoor centre with the kind of facilities that make it an attractive proposition for any educational or outdoor training organisation. Its primary role, however, remains that of a community asset for Market Drayton, and to provide benefit to Grove School students. Other groups, of course, can base themselves there and it is open for private bookings by those who want a genuine Lake District Experience. The details are on our website: www.thebirks.org.

Birks construction

In recent years, successive working parties of volunteers from Market Drayton, have worked incredibly hard to modernise and upgrade the place – it is this support, by people and businesses in the Market Drayton area, that has given consistency to the project. New windows and doors; showers; toilets; central heating and a magnificent stainless steel catering kitchen have replaced the original facilities. There are 8 dormitory rooms with comfortable beds: enough accommodation for 28 people.

Birks construction

In January this year, I drove the 150 miles from Market Drayton to lend my hand to a team of regular volunteers. The tranquillity of the area made the drive more than worth while – not that I had a lot of time to spend admiring the view. When I arrived daylight was in short supply and machinery was on hire; I was given my instructions as I drank a welcome cup of tea.

The Birks

The aim throughout the project has been to meet modern building standards whilst retaining as many original features as possible. This left a significant hurdle to be overcome on part of the ground floor which was originally an animal barn. In the 1970’s it was used as a classroom, but it fell far short of the 2.3m of headroom demanded by current regulations. Raising the ceiling was out of the questions, so the only option was to lower the floor by excavation. A previous working group had made spectacular progress by removing the original concrete floor, mainly with hand barrows and muscle – I had come to help with the final stages which involved further digging out to achieve the requisite level for the new floor to be installed.

Chris skilfully manoeuvred his mini digger through the barn door with just centimetres to spare, and set about removing earth and rock, taking care not to disturb those foundations that were laid so long ago. I was given the comparatively easy job of driving a dumper truck – in which the spoil was deposited for removal to an appropriate spot. The old barn is now waiting for the appointed builder to lay a fresh concrete floor allowing for the regulatory 2.3m of room height.

Birk Bunks

The journey to complete this most recent phase in the Birk’s history is almost over, and when it is, the Birks will be ready to operate ‘self sufficiently’ – drawing enough income from resident groups to finance ongoing maintenance and improvement. It is thanks to the hard work, dedication and vision of all those who have contributed in so many ways, that this wonderful asset exists for our community and Grove students, past present and future.

The Birks
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