PICTURE GALLERY: Sheringham’s Hilltop Outdoor Centre helps children across Norfolk and Suffolk learn the ropes

In a tucked away corner of north Norfolk nestled within 35 acres of woodland, the delighted shouts of youngsters can be heard as they whizz down a zip wire strung among the trees.

A few feet away their fellow adventurers urge each other on as they tackle a 40ft vertical assault course.

And all the while they are learning new skills, discovering how to support each other and taking on responsibilities - because the high flying activities at the Hilltop Outdoor Centre near Sheringham are geared around educational experiences that make learning fun.

Hilltop was the idea of PE teacher Martin Read, who felt children needed more opportunities to feel successful. Working on the sports fields he could see some pupils excelled out of the classroom.

He teamed up with wife Sue, who worked as a carer, and with backing from his brothers sold his house to set up Hilltop, which started life by hosting residential activity breaks for up to 30 children.

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Now 23 years on it has grown extensively and accommodates up to 140 pupils from as far away as Kent and London. It also hosts team-building exercises for companies, and runs pay-and-play open days for the public.

In the last two years the Hilltop reins have been passed to Mr Read's son, Oliver and his wife Helen who have plans for future development of the hugely successful venture.

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Oliver, 31, said: 'We're going to look at having more facilities for groups so we can take on greater numbers, which gives us an opportunity to expand the business, along with putting more activities in.

'We're always on the look out for the next big thing and we're constantly re-investing in the business so there's always something new for people.'

But much of the business will remain the same under their leadership as they couple are keen to build on Mr Read's foundations and maintain Hilltop's family-run atmosphere.

He added: 'Teaching the children about respect for one another, having self esteem, getting along with one another and building confidence works really well in the environment we have got.

'My dad always used to say 'let children be children', and if they want to go off and play in the woods there's a safe environment for them to do it here. You learn the most when you're having fun because you're enjoying something and everything they do here, they're having fun.'

The centre's work has been spread through word of mouth by the teachers that use it, Oliver said, and even by bus drivers picking up coach loads of excited youngsters after their stay on the north Norfolk coast.

But it is not just the students who have fun at Hilltop as the centre's staff also enjoy a rewarding experience by getting to see a positive change in the youngsters they help.

Oliver said: 'All the instructors are here because they enjoy seeing the children succeed and develop. That's what the whole company's set around.'

He added: 'I love coming to work, it's something new every day.'

? For more information about Hilltop visit www.hilltopoutdoorcentre.co.uk or call 01263 824514.

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