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Forest school sprouts international success

It began with a vision to get Sunshine Coast kids back to nature. Now, Wildlings Forest School is teaching outdoor education around the world with one simple goal: to let kids be kids.

The Burnside based business is being showcased as one of the region’s Local Business Champions as part of the series which highlights the success and capability of our local business community.

From raft building and archery to wood carving and bush cubby houses, the forest school offers a dose of the outdoors enriching the lives of thousands of children, big and small.

Wildlings Forest School Co-Founders Vicci Oliver and Nikki Farrell said success came down to authenticity.

“We’re outdoor educators by trade so when we first started, running a business was completely foreign to us,” Vicci said.

“Those first two years were a crash course in a world we knew nothing about. 

“One of the best business insights we’ve gained along the way is to be authentic. When we tell our story, we really connect with our audience and then they spread our message for us.”

Going from strength to strength since opening their leafy gates in 2017, the Wildlings Forest School has thrived through the impacts of COVID-19, making the most of lockdown and business disruptions to establish a podcast and digital learning platform.

“During the Covid-19 lockdown, we had to shut our programs down. That gave us the pause to actually think about how we are going to diversify and extend what we do beyond our local community.

“We began creating the Raising Wildlings podcast and an online course for educators far and wide.”

Seeking support along their business journey, Vicci and Nikki have used Sunshine Coast Council’s business programs and events to help build their profile and businesses skills.

“Through our business we’ve had multiple opportunities to work with Sunshine Coast Council.

“One of the most memorable for us was being part of council’s Refinery program, which was an eight-week boot camp to boost our business.

“We wouldn’t be here without Sunshine Coast Council’s support,” Nikki said.

Sunshine Coast Council Economic Development Portfolio Councillor Terry Landsberg said the Wildling’s Forest School was another great example of small businesses that had big things for our region and beyond.

“Council recognises how important small businesses are to our local economy which is why we developed the Local Business Champions series,” Cr Landsberg said.

“I commend the Forest School for its success and for showcasing the Sunshine Coast’s natural surrounds and enriching our local kids with their wonderful nature-based programs.

“I’d like to thank Vicci and Nikki, and our local business community, for being resilient and agile when faced with these unprecedented events.

“The agility and innovation shown by Vicci and Nicki during a challenging time, is what makes them Sunshine Coast Local Business Champions.”

Vicci said being a Local Business Champion was a validation of the hard work over the past four years.

“It’s a new industry that often isn’t recognised in education or outdoor education and yet, here we are thriving,” Vicci said.

“And instead of just being the two of us, we’re now employing between 15 and 30 people across south east Queensland.

“We’re achieving our mission, but at the same time we are able to create careers for people and work that they really value.

“We are really proud of the culture we create within Wildlings.

“We are thrilled to see our vision providing work, getting our children outdoors and watching them reap the benefits of being out in nature.”

In addition to being recognised as Local Business Champions, the Wildings Forest School has just won the Education and Training category (Large) at the 2021 Sunshine Coast Business Awards.

Vicki and Nikki shared their advice for other local businesses:

Authenticity: Tell your story with passion and it will resonate with your audience

Business vision: We had had a very strong, authentic vision from the get-go and everything that we do always comes back to that. Establish a business vision and use it to guide your business decisions.

We are thrilled to see our vision providing work, getting our children outdoors and watching them reap the benefits of being out in nature.

Clear goals: We have learnt along our business journey how important it is to set clear goals and make time to achieve them.

Local Business Champions: Sharing Stories highlights the success and capability of our local business community.
The series acknowledges local business efforts, whether it’s a change in their business models to grow current or new business; new business ideas to recover from COVID; or an inspiring story from a local business owner.
Are you a Local Business Champion or do you know of someone who is? Get involved and share the stories of your Local Business Champions via social media using the hashtag #localbusinesschampions

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