Our Changing Story

Friends of Holt Hall to call time on its work and hand over to others

A recent and moving Special General Meeting (4th May 2023) discussed next steps after the handover of Holt Hall from Norfolk County Council to Gresham’s School on February 28th. It confirmed moving funds to other charities able to take forward the mission of FOHH helping Norfolk children access Environmental Outdoor Learning.

You can see which charities we have been helping to carry on the work of making Environmental Outdoor Learning more accessible to Norfolk children in our Support EOL page.

We are sad, therefore, to announce closure of our Charity in the months ahead. Our meeting agreed:

  • “This Special General Meeting agrees that in the changed ownership and purposes of Holt Hall and the full cessation of Holt Hall former work delivering Environmental Outdoor Learning, the Trustees and Officers therefore be directed to take forward the steps necessary to wind up the charity’s affairs as set out in Clause 6 “Dissolution” of the FOHH Constitution. All attendees agreed.”

We are implementing this with immense gratitude for the support of many individuals, groups, and media. Thank You! You have helped us to address our mission to secure a legacy from the work at Holt Hall with a sense of pride. The trustees of FOHH want to thank all our supporters for their active help, advice, and generous donations in recent years.

Our chair, Tom Green, has this personal message.

I often meet adults who say that their residential visits to Holt Hall remain among some of the most valued experiences of their schooldays.

Times change, but as far as Norfolk County Council provision for Outdoor and Environmental Education is concerned, the writing was sadly on the wall some years ago, as the human and material resources of the Norfolk Education Department began to be depleted and wonderful public assets such as How Hill, the Wells Field Studies Centre and now Holt Hall were sold off. It became pretty clear that Norfolk County Council put other financial priorities above these once acclaimed and innovative educational establishments.

Despite this, there is now almost universal agreement that time among nature is a proven way of countering the well documented deterioration in the mental health and well-being of a generation, and can also be a source of inspiration and hope to those who will soon have to live with the consequences of climate change and disastrous biodiversity loss.

However, after the sale of Holt Hall and the cessation of the Friends’ of Holt Hall charity, we are now able to celebrate the distribution and investment of our remaining young persons’ bursary fund into the safe hands of other well respected charities. We are thrilled that each have pledged to use this money, so generously donated to our charity in the past, for environmental education and even wider outreach through the Holt Youth Project, the ongoing schools programmes of How Hill, the Horstead Centre and Whitwell Hall as well as the innovative Wilder Schools Project of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust; helping children in urban Norwich to better connect with nature.

The End of an Era

FOHH sadly note that the sale of Holt Hall was completed on 28th February with the handover to Gresham’s School. Norfolk County Council no longer has any responsibility for the Hall or estate. The final handover from the remaining NCC employees at Holt Hall has been completed. We understand the Hall is now going to be sealed off while refurbishment and grounds management takes place. We understand those last remaining Holt Hall staff will have been made redundant.

We also learn from a source, “Under Gresham’s ownership they have the financial ability to properly restore the Hall to its former glory, improve the grounds and preserve the flora and fauna that the estate attracts and open the site to the public so its facilities can be used for the public good that schools such as Gresham’s must adhere to under the charity commission. In the process of improving the site there will be significant job opportunities for so many local craftsmen over the next few years.“

It remains to be seen how far that promise is realised. This author hopes that many local groups including FOHH members will both be consulted by headmaster Douglas Robb about the opportunities to preview the works done and discuss public access, especially for the widest access to Environmental Outdoor Learning for Norfolk Children.

Never has Environmental Outdoor Learning been more needed as we move forward from the massive impacts of both the pandemic and the current cost of living crisis. Friends of Holt Hall has been an independent registered charity (number 1151613) for over a decade. We were established to support working with young people, to promote their active engagement with the environment and to develop opportunities for their social and emotional wellbeing. With public support we undertook this with the Holt Hall Environmental Studies Centre until its closure at the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

Norfolk County Council’s decision to cease outdoor learning provision and sell Holt Hall is now reaching a conclusion with a sale in 2023 expected to Gresham’s School. We do not want to prejudge any community benefits this new ownership may offer, but the trustees have come to an important conclusion.

Our aim to help children across Norfolk and more widely benefit from environmental outdoor learning experiences will not be best met with a primary focus on Holt Hall. The Environmental Studies Centre accessible to all groups of children can no longer be re-established there.

The trustees proposed to Friends of Holt Hall that the funds raised from the public both for our primary aims, and for the project to secure a future for Holt Hall environmental learning can be best and most rapidly used to deliver real benefits. This was agreed.

In line with our responsibilities to charity law and regulation, we have made grants to a small number of charities with environmental outdoor learning services and projects to boost their ability to deliver the benefits we and our supporters wish to see delivered in the immediate future to children in Norfolk who might otherwise miss out.

  • “We’ve fallen off the radar’: Outdoor centres in crisis over lack of COVID Help – Guardian News article

    23 March 2021 –

    Our supporter Patrick Barkham covered the plight of many outdoor learning centres in his article published in the Guardian. Friends from across the sector are mentioned as well as our campaign.


  • Forgotten outdoor education – ITV Anglia news coverage

    Delighted to get a mention in this ITV piece for Holt Hall in the context of threatened outdoor learning closed and unable to open. Thank you to wild Child author Patrick Barkham for promoting our appeal. The ACV Moratorium has been triggered So we have the chance to form that future community business. We just need to get those pump priming funds nearer our target!


  • EPD new coverage

    14th March 2021

    Well publicity is always powerful! But this was the not way FOHH wanted it to be, and we made the representations. We can see there may have have been some sound reasons for distributing furniture etc, and it is good that educational materials are, we are told, stored. But…replacing what has been removed if we succeed in reopening means more expense. At 47% of our Crowdfunder Target please do help us to raise as much money for our project and the longer term future of outdoor environmental learning as you can! Please, please please…Donate, share, tell your friends.


  • Crowdfunder Project Launched

    6th March 2021 —

    To have the best chance of success at succeeding in our aims we are drawing on the advice of successful community projects elsewhere but we need dedicated and paid help to develop robust plans, proposals to Norfolk County Council and a cover a range of fees. As the Friends are run by a small group of unpaid Trustees and volunteers.

    In the longer term we need funding to adapt our mission to help children and young people access outstanding outdoor, environmental and green revolution experiences in Norfolk and our region.

    Here is the EDP’s coverage on our launch:


  • Holt Hall future

    25 JAN 2021 — 

    Norfolk County Council’s final decision to cease the Environmental and Outdoor Learning  service for children using Holt Hall, and to prepare the Hall for sale, has not diminished the  resolve and vision of the Trustees of the Friends of Holt Hall and volunteers. 

    Our vision is to continue the legacy of the past seventy years, of high quality provision of  outdoor and environmental experience, led by experts and open to all, and to assist in  developing well-being and resilience, particularly to equip children and young people  facing the unique challenges of the moment. 

    The Friends of Holt Hall nominated Holt Hall as an “asset of community value”, and this  has been approved by North Norfolk District Council. This gives a period of time before  Holt Hall can put up for sale. During this time the Trustees are exploring various options  including seeking partners and the development of a plan for community ownership.   We still need your support, and we thank you very much for all the encouragement you  have given us to date.

  • The campaign to Save Holt Hall was started

    An Environmental and Outdoor Learning Centre owned and run by Norfolk County  Council (NCC), which has served generations of Norfolk schoolchildren over the past  seventy years, is to be closed. 

    After a review of Norfolk outdoor learning provision and consideration of the costs of  maintenance and running Holt Hall, Norfolk County Council have concluded that  selling Holt Hall; the large Victorian house, with its seventy acres of protected  woodland, a walled garden, and a beautiful lake, is justified, as it will help close a  deficit in the Council budget.

    Holt Hall is well used. Visiting schools pay for visits, which are supported by the  Bursary Scheme started by the Friends of Holt Hall charity. Other organisations such  as Scouts also pay to use the estate. 

    In this academic year 84 schools had booked classes of Primary stage children to  stay at Holt Hall, and to experience the wonders of exploring and learning outdoors in  the safety of this large estate, with expert teaching staff. All visits since March have  been cancelled, based on a mixture of national and local decisions relating to the  Covid19 pandemic. 

    For seventy years, children have learned and appreciated the environment, outdoor  living, nature, and working together at Holt Hall. They have developed self-confidence  and increased wellbeing during residential or day visits.Holt Hall also hosts day visits  for vulnerable young adults to help with their mental wellbeing. It is also used by other  organisations such as the Forest School movement and for camping. Holt Hall has the  highest satisfaction score of all outdoor learning centres in Norfolk 

    “The Friends of Holt Hall” charity is supported by a dedicated group of volunteers who  assist the grounds team, and raise thousands in funds, primarily for the Bursary  Scheme, to ensure wider inclusion for visits to Holt Hall. During the year “Open Gates”  events invite the public into the grounds for themed events to raise more money in  support of the work. Every year the staff and volunteers cut down a Christmas tree  from the woods to put in the Hall near the large fireplace. The tree is decorated, and is  enjoyed by all during a Christmas Fair event when the hall fireplace has a roaring fire  supplied with logs from the estate. 

    We want this important service to continue and for children from Norfolk and beyond to  experience outdoor learning, adventure, confidence and relationship building. 

Each year Gresham’s School, the new owners of the Hall and custodians of this historic estate, already welcomes children from London for summer activities in their grounds. Gresham’s has produced a number of leading environmentalists including former pupil, the broadcaster, author, and a Norfolk Wildlife Trust nature champion, Nick Acheson. As the school develops its plans for the whole site, we trust that the ambition to reach out to the local community can be extended to Norfolk schools, so influencing the lives of even more young people and continuing and enhancing the rich legacy of Holt Hall’s former life.