“If you go down in the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise”
And that’s just what we got when we popped along to Craft Wood’s Open Day. With the sunlight streaming through the trees and birds cheeping, the charming atmosphere of this calm, reflective space was enough to put a smile on anyone’s face.
And the proof was already in action through a young Ukrainian boy who had just in the last few days come to stay with volunteer David. He’d started off the morning in a bad mood, explained David. But an hour in the woods with the freedom to use tools and create all sorts of wonderful things out of wood had lifted his spirits.
It’s the reason green social prescribing has become so important. But for Thomas Erskine, Craft Wood’s founder, challenges with funding, process and raising awareness make it a rollercoaster ride.
Boosting health and wellbeing
At Craft Wood volunteers support adults, young people and children with support needs and help them improve their independence and learn new skills.
Thomas said: “The health and wellbeing benefits of being in an environment like this is obviously well documented and we’ve seen it really does have an impact on people’s lives. It’s a chance to learn a bit of woodwork, a bit of light woodland management, conservation, cooking.
“We tend to work with quite small groups which means we can do tool use and really find out what a person’s into and try and support that.”
The challenges and support needed
People are currently referred by their social worker or community connector and Thomas is hoping to start a green social prescribing group. However, it hasn’t come without it’s challenges.
“Green social prescribing is a great idea and I think it can really make an impact. There’s a lot of talk about it at the moment and a lot of people in place to support it but it’s early days.
“I think giving projects a couple of years to start something and really showing what difference it could make will really help it take off.”
Thomas explains what he believes is needed to be able to make projects like this a success.
He said: “For good support to be given and consistency, projects need to be funded. It can’t rely completely on good will. It’s constantly like chasing funding and never quite securing enough.”
Positive outcomes at Craft Wood
With the right support, the positive impact nature and this space can have on people’s lives is enormous. Not only does it provide a safe space for people with high anxiety and autism, it allows people to take ownership of things, build confidence and break down barriers.
Thomas said: “There’s a great feeling in this woods that you can have a go and do something. If you look around all the structures have been made by people accessing volunteering or coming via social services.
“Some of the people who come who’ve got high anxiety have just felt very calm in this environment. There’s no public right of way through here which for someone with anxiety that’s really nice. It’s their space.
“Wood is a very forgiving material, if it goes wrong, so what, just pick up a new piece. So that sense of it not being overly precious in terms of what the activities are I think that really works well in terms of building that confidence. Then people do get better and better.”
The impact on the volunteers
As well as the benefits for the people referred to the project, the volunteers working here get just as much from being involved. David Hunns from Whatstandwell lost his wife in a car accident two years ago and came to the project as a volunteer to allow him to get out and about, do something and meet people.
He said: “It has been really good for me. Initially it was just a place to come with a few people and a bit of company and then Thomas gave me responsibility or the opportunity just to do my own thing. But the nice thing is you get to help people.
“Even if you’re here by yourself it’s such a quiet lovely place. It’s very therapeutic, it’s a simple as that. They say about going into the woods and feeling at one with nature, it’s a bit of a cliché but it works.”
You can find out more about Craft Wood by visiting their website here.