“If my son could see me now, he wouldn’t believe it”
People with dementia and their carers had the opportunity to try out a range of environmental art, woodcraft and outdoor cooking in the Forest of Avon Trust’s recent Woodland Wellbeing project.
The pilot project, in Conham River Park, arose from a partnership between Bristol Dementia Wellbeing Service and the Forest of Avon Trust and ran for 12 weeks from late summer into the autumn, attracting a total of 17 participants. Underpinned by the 5 Ways to Wellbeing (be active, connect, take notice, keep learning and give back), activities across the sessions included walks along the river and through the woods, environmental arts and crafts, making fires and cooking, chatting over a cup of tea or coffee and learning about wildlife.
Participants were accompanied by a close family member or a support worker and everyone could join in the activities as much or as little as they wanted. People got involved in sawing and drilling wood to make rustic items such as twig pencils, mallets and candle holders; making mosaics and bunting from found leaves and petals; or using natural inks with quills they’d made from feathers to write poems based on what they could see, hear and smell in the woodland environment. For others, it was enough to sit and watch.
Each week a member of the group would light the fire to boil water for hot drinks, and sitting around in a circle trying to guess which way the wind would blow the smoke became a regular focus of the group. We did some foraging while on our walks, collecting sweet chestnuts to roast and blackberries which made a tasty accompaniment to home-made pancakes, while the final session featured more traditional outdoor snacks such as hot dogs and toasted marshmallows.
“There’s a wonder to it”
The Forest of Avon Trust’s Woodland Wellbeing Dementia Project is an example of a fundamental part of the ethos of the charity at work.
This has been to both apply and develop best practice in the delivery of the benefits of the being in the natural environment.
In this work, the Trust applies the principles of Forest School to deliver successful projects tailored to the needs of diverse groups tackling isolation, developing confidence and more widely improving quality of life. Currently we are proud to be delivering a project working with people with dementia and their partners and carers.
Woodland activities in sessions have included:
• listening to bird song
• making kazoos
• making quills to write down thoughts
• making mallets
• using various flowers & berries to make hapa zome bunting
To find out more about our work, or to discuss a new project, email: email@example.com
Central to our ethos has been to demonstrate the value of activities in the natural environment to people’s health and wellbeing. We have run a number of evaluated projects to apply (and develop) best practice in this field.
Our Woodland Wellbeing programme draws upon this practice, applying the principles of Forest School to deliver outdoor activity programmes tailored to the needs of groups including: adults with learning disabilities; people with mental health needs; people living with dementia; and young people at risk of exclusion.
Our work is delivered by Health & Wellbeing Officer: Nicola Ramsden, working with skilled Associate Rachel Tomlinson and/or trained volunteers. We can offer 6, 8, 12 & 16 week programmes and ‘taster days’.
To find out more about our Woodland Wellbeing projects and/or to discuss a new project, please email Nicola at: firstname.lastname@example.org
This summer we’ve been running a series of woodland sessions aimed at people with low to mid-level mental health needs based in the community. We wanted to encourage people to get outside, spend some relaxing time in nature, meet other people and try new things.
We hoped that people would find out if being in nature could help them develop coping strategies for daily life.
This pilot project was run in association with Public Health: Bristol and Lawrence Weston Community Farm. Participants were told about the sessions by their GP and could attend free of charge.
Activities ranged from making elderflower cordial to whittling, learning about wildlife and trying out simple survival skills. Participants came up with ideas of what they wanted to do, and session leaders helped them to follow their interests by providing expertise and support.
Feedback at the end of the pilot was very positive. One participant said, “I no longer stare at the ground when walking about, instead I’ve learned from being here to look around at all the colours, remember tree names and maybe collect fallen leaves”.
They went on to say, “my family and boyfriend have noticed a big improvement in my depression and are always asking what I have done when I come home.”
We hope to expand the Forest of Avon Trust’s nature-based health and wellbeing projects in 2016, based on the interests and needs of different groups. Do get in touch if you are interested in working with us: email@example.com
Two groups of adults with learning difficulties have been visiting The Retreat over the last year to learn new skills and help us manage the woodland.
Last week people from Choices4U helped clear dozens of tree guards and create a small area of hazel coppice. Participants from The Milestone Trust’s Stepping Forward group have also been hard at work in the woods, creating a dead hedge and pond dipping amongst other things.
The Woodland Works project was funded by South Gloucestershire Learning Difficulties Development Board and The Baily Thomas Charitable Trust and has been running since last summer. Participants have learned about fire lighting, shelter building, safe use of tools and wildlife identification (in all kinds of weather!)
A support worker from Milestone Trust said: “The retreat experience gave the service users valuable outdoor experiences. Learning about safety outdoors and using tools and fire. They learned to work together as a team and did independent projects. Outdoor confidence grew as they learned to make things from nature… All ask to go back to experience more.”
It hasn’t all been hard work though! The groups have also had fun making bows and arrows, building shelters, making music and creating woodland art. The Retreat also provides a therapeutic environment to spend time sitting quietly, listening and watching, a chance to feel connected to nature.
If you are interested in finding out more about Woodland Works, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Activities at Ashton Court
The Forest of Avon Trust has been using the Forest School approach with a number of groups of adults with learning disabilities over the last few years. Getting groups out in to local woodlands to explore and undertake a range of activities that has brought them in to close contact with nature has been fun and beneficial. Through talking to those involved we have picked up on some common themes that demonstrate how individuals and groups can benefit from this small group based experience in a natural setting over a period of time. The following link explores this in more detail – Outdoor Activities with Adults with Learning Disabilities.
Cooking on the fire.
The Forest of Avon Trust in partnership with with Bristol Adoption Support Service has run a day for 30 people in the woods at Ashton Court Estate. The family groups went on a short walk across the top of Ashton Court Estate exploring natural colours that can be found in the landscape. Then, in a small woodland clearing the group spent the day enjoying games and activities in the woods, as well as having a relaxing lunch and marshmallows toasted on the fire.
Keynote Speech by Rowena Kenny
The beautiful and sunny Water Vole Woodland at Lawrence Weston Community Farm was the excellent host for our Bristol Big Green Week woodland event. It was a great success with a fantastic turn out of over 40 professionals from education, social and health sectors attending. Rowena Kenny set the scene with an enlightening and inspiring talk exploring how children’s and adults’ relationships with the outdoors has changed over the past few decades and why it is so important that we are all able to get out into natural spaces.
Exploring natural colours in the woods and creating a Natures Palette
Sessions run by Natural Connections to work with Adults with Learning Disabilities are being further developed through a new project ‘Into the Woods’. The development of a new partnership with the Silvanus Trust and the Faculty of Education at the University of Plymouth has made it possible to extend this work and explore in more detail the potential benefits. The project is being developed and run by Nicola Ramsden and Rachel Tomlinson for the Forest of Avon Trust and has three main aims:
- To explore what people think and feel about their involvement in woodland activities and how their experiences contribute to their personal and social wellbeing;
- To help people providing these activities to establish the benefit they have;
- To share the results and any lessons for best practice, with other people who provide woodland activities, as well as funders and researchers.
Information and feedback will be collected before, during and after the six sessions being run with the groups, from Shirelink day care centre and City of Bristol College. A report will be produced evaluating ‘Into the Woods’ and findings will be used to inform best practice.