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It's been a While ... But here we are again!
It feels unbelieveable that it was spring when we last published a post here – things have definitely been busy at Wild Things and as one young person commented: “Oh, it’s so true! Time really does pass quickly when you’re having fun!”
We have worked in the woods with 240 children, young people and adults since the spring, with the majority of them getting out to the woods for 6 sessions over 6 weeks.
The children and young people that we have been working with have now had a pretty large chunk of their childhoods and key developmental years coloured by the pandemic, with all the lack of social interaction and loss of extra support and enriching life experiences that this time has meant for them.
So it has been incredible to get them into the woods. The relief to be out that we have seen on the faces of the children (and on the faces of their exhausted teachers and support staff) has made every moment worthwhile!
Between Easter and the summer holidays we were delivering sessions at Bestwood Country Park, working with children from the NG7 area of inner city Nottingham and from Bulwell.
The woods were often full of sounds as funding from Youth Music allowed us to run several music-focused Forest School programmes, involving talented musicians Rob Green and Ben Welch from Sheep Soup. There were also some incredibly talented children out and they got involved in composing their own lyrics, beatboxing, solo performances and musical games.
One young person even managed to charm a woodland mouse, using a kalimba, improvising to this smallest member of the audience for over 10 minutes as the mouse got closer and closer to his feet!
There were so many other magical moments: sharing nettle soup and elderflower fritters round the campfire, lying in the sunshine in a clearing, watching a buzzard fly just below us from the viewpoint on a hill – it was truly good to be out!
None of these moments would have been possible without the funding from Youth Music, the Opengate Foundation, the Jones Trust and the Ptarmigan Trust, as well as the generous donations of individuals.
In the summer holidays we finally managed (for the first time since the start of the pandemic), to get back to delivering sessions with some young people’s summer holiday support groups, working in the woods at Shining Cliff, in Derbyshire, with the support of the Grith Pioneers, and funding from the Derbyshire High Sheriff Fund (through Foundation Derbyshire).
Up until this point it has been really hard to get groups such as Young Carers and Action for Children out on trips due to the complexities of face to face working with young people from multiple different settings during these times. So it was great to be finally doing some face to face holiday sessions again and giving young people, who may have had no other summer holiday plans and who had a lot on their plates during the lockdowns, a chance to unwind.
Another highlight of the summer was a day at Shining Cliff with 17 members of Derbyshire Refugee Solidarity project. The men who had been facing really challenging living situations in Derby during the lockdown, loved exploring Shining Cliff, sharing soup and stories around the fire.
Between September and October half-term we have been busy back in the woods at Bestwood. The autumn days have seemed especially kind this year, with (mostly!) beautiful sunshine making the golden leaves and purple heather particularly luminous and creating a feeling that we had entered another magical reality. As one girl put it: “This is like being in a film – it’s so beautiful here! Do you think anyone’s been here before?”
The term kicked off with the challenge of running a team building inset day for 65 teachers from Mellers Primary School. The day provided a great chance for new staff at the school to get to know each other for the first time and for others to catch up after a year and a half of not being abl to mingle in the staff room. Relaxing round the camp fire and in hammocks and pelting through the woods during a Robin Hood themed team game – it was great to see teachers who have been doing such an incredible and unrelenting job having some time to unwind and it was humbling to hear what they have been through and have done for the children in their care. In our opinion, the role of school staff as “social workers” and emotional supporters for children at the front line in this pandemic has been underestimated and unacknowledged (as has the price they have paid in terms of mental and physical health …).
This term has also involved the start of some new exciting work. Funding from the CLA, the Ptarmigan Trust and the Jones Trust has enabled us to run a series of Forest School programmes for children who needed extra support due to their experiences in the pandemic, allowing us to work with focused Special Needs groups and children with English as an additional languages, whilst funding from the Wesleyan Foundation has allowed us to start delivering some targeted girls-only support programmes.
We are excited about being back in the woods in the new half term and are crossing all our fingers that the rising rates don’t put a stop to getting kids from the City outside into the green.
We wanted to share a few pieces of feedback from the children and teachers form the last few months that reflects the challenges that they have all been facing, and the power of the woods to heal, bring joy and build resilience for whatever comes next:
“The staff team is under huge pressure with staff still off with Long Covid and suffering serious long-term health implications since last spring.” (Nottingham teacher, autumn 2021)
“His Mum told me this morning just how excited he has been about coming out to the woods – this is the first school trip since Covid – to be honest we are all so excited, it’s great to be out at last!” (Teaching Assistant)
“It’s so amazing to come out – we’ve just been inside so much! Even now we’re not doing any other school trips, Wild Things is the only thing we’ve been coming out to.” (Teacher, autumn 2021)
And a few more quotes from the children who came out to the woods:
“It’s so peaceful here compared to home.”
“The woods make me feel really calm. Just seeing the trees makes me forget my worries and stops me feeling so angry.”
“Life is beautiful – this is the place to be!”
“I want to come out here every day forever!”
“I love it out here so much – this is my place!”
“So can I live here?” (after end of the first session)
“Leaving here feels like when I had to leave my country – I’m glad Bestwood is only 5 miles away, not thousands of miles away.”
“There’s no way I’d get to the beach over the summer, but maybe I could come back to the woods!”
Spring has arrived!
After many months of the still and cold winter, we have finally arrived into the spring!
The natural world is becoming more and more alive: opening buds, growing leaves, birds busy building nests, daffodils and dandelions bringing more sunny yellow into the slowly more green world. It is a relief, change is happening again. In the woods and in the UK: we have started stepping out of the winter lockdown and lives are becoming a bit more outward looking for a lot of us.
Wild Things have been quieter over the winter, but we were actually one of the first things to start moving out of the stillness in the woods. We have started working again after February half-term – with less groups and time out in the woods, but still, we were there!
We and the children and young people we were working with have seen Bestwood Country Park slowly emerge from the winter slumber, with the first green shoots and the first catkins.
The feeling was shared: both ourselves and the young people we were with in the woods have sighed a breath of relief from the claustrophobic and anxiety-ridden conditions of this winter lockdown. For six Mondays, young people from the alternative provision group RISE and children from the EAL unit of Mellers Primary School in Nottingham have been able to feel a bit more at ease out in the woods, among the trees.
We have been able to explore the woods and the young people’s interests and found ways of facilitating a nurturing space for the children and young people who have been attending school in the lockdown due to their high need, and have suffered great amounts of stress and anxiety.
For many of these children, the option to spend time outdoors is extremely limited: the green spaces in the NG7 area where most of them live are very limited and restricted to a few parks, with very small, if any garden space in individual housing.
Our main aim for this half term was to offer the children and young people the opportunity to be outside and safely engage with the natural world and other children.
The reports about the decline in children’s mental health are pouring in (Emerging Evidence: Coronavirus and children’s and young people’s mental health) and we are certain that the lack of play and socialising in a relaxing and spacious environment plays a big role in that very disconcerting fact. Certainly all children were affected by that, but, as this pandemic has demonstrated very clearly, there are massive differences between how much people were able to make use of resources that helped them weather the pandemic storms and a lot of that comes down to societal factors, such as socio-economic status, race, ethnicity, geographic locality, legal status etc.
The children we are working with experience disadvantage due to these factors on a daily level – so much more so now in the pandemic.
Some feedback we received from one of the schools we are working with, confirmed that:
“Children across the country have had a variety of experiences but it’s not a secret that children living in deprived areas have not had a great deal. Forest Fields (part of Nottingham NG7 area) is full of challenges and our children will require lots of focused work around well-being, self-esteem, socialising skills, confidence building, re-focusing in terms of healthy lifestyles and that’s before catch up in Maths and English.” (school staff, primary school in NG7 area)
With these thoughts in mind, we have been so glad that we were able to provide some support and we are excited about the start of the spring half term and all the children and young people we will welcome in the woods.
“Each and every visit to Wild Things has only ever brought about positivity for our children. I have not had one piece of negative feedback from any group, no matter what the age or ability. For some of children who have travelled across war torn countries or spent a year travelling through a number of countries to get to Nottingham it’s like a magical adventure. Things are simple, fun, engaging and stimulating. It puts a smile on the child’s face and most definitely has an impact on self-confidence and self-esteem. These are the memories that are often recalled by children when they are older. If we had the manpower, logistical capacity and money, we would send a group each day of the week.” (Deputy head, a primary school in NG7 area, March 2021)
We wish you all a good start of the spring and some more hope for the months ahead!
time for some reflection
Hello on the very first day of February 2021 – winter is still very much present, but slowly and adamantly the little green shoots are appearing everywhere!
At the beginning of January, Wild Things were hoping we would be in the woods, working with a new lot of groups from inner-city Nottingham schools, enjoying watching children take in the view on a hill top at Bestwood Country Park: instead we have been waiting this past month to hear how, and if, we can support the groups that we work with under the current restrictions. At the moment, trips out the woods are sadly on hold.
So what we thought we would do, is tell you a bit about a few things: firstly, we wanted to spend some time on the teaching staff who we’ve been working with when they have been bringing children out. They usually don’t feature in our reports that much, but in the light of the unbelievable strains of the conditions they are working in this pandemic, we wanted to dedicate some space to talk about them.
We also wanted to spend some time to reflect on the last autumn and all the good memories of those three months. It’s good to look back every now and then!
And save the best for last – have a look at what the kids and teachers have told us over the autumn of September 2020. Some amazing stuff!
Schools and school staff
Within our work, we always work closely with schools – despite not being in the woods, we are keeping in touch with schools’ staff and so know how much is being asked of them right now.
For a start, they currently have a lot more pupils in than last March, even though risks are higher to them all. They are also juggling in super-human ways: many teachers are having to work both in school with key worker children, whilst also (in spare moments and into the late evenings) recording lessons for those children who are staying at home.
There is no doubt that teaching staff are on the front line and that too much is being asked of them.
How many people who chose teaching as a career would really have expected to be front line workers in a deadly pandemic?! Wild Things are sending our respect, solidarity and thoughts to all the amazing teachers, teaching assistants and other essential admin, cooking and cleaning staff and the mini-bus drivers who have been holding schools together during this time.
We know the huge risks they are taking, with some of the Nottingham teaching staff still seriously affected by the consequences of serious Covid-19 complications from the last peak.
Teaching staff play a massive, underestimated and undervalued role, not just as educators but as social workers in keeping children safe and cared for. It’s time teaching staff were valued, supported and properly protected.
The Autumn term of 2020 with wild things
While we are currently unable to be in the woods with kids, we do at least have a bit of time to reflect on and share the positive moments between September and December, when we were able to get children out to the woods for powerful respite from the chaos unfurling all around them: time out of time where they could just be children again.
These precious moments were made possible by the generous donations of individuals and also funds, including:
The Jones 1986 Trust, The Ptarmigan Trust, The Tampon Tax Fund, Youth Music, The Wheatcroft Foundation, CAF Coronavirus Emergency Fund, The Lady Hind Trust, the R&J Gardner Trust and funding from the Coronavirus Community Support Fund, distributed by the National Lottery Community Fund.
These donations and grants have made it possible for Wild Things to work last autumn with a total of 112 children, with 103 of those coming from the NG7 area of inner city Nottingham. The majority of the children were able to take part in 6-week long support programmes (one group came for 12 weeks in a row), escaping the city to get out to Bestwood Country Park for 2 hours once a week. We worked with an exciting mix of groups, including: all girls groups, support groups for children with English as an additional language, looked-after children and children who had newly arrived in the country.
It was a roller coaster ride both in terms of weather (there was sun, torrential rain, wind, hard frost and even snow!) and also in terms of emotions.
There was a huge relief from the Wild Things team and the teachers from the schools at finally getting who had been cooped up in stressful situations at home between March and September 2020, out to the freedom of the woods. We will never forget the smile and words of one of the first children from inner-city Nottingham who stepped off the minibus, removed her mask, threw her arms in the air and shouted out: “Nature – at last!”
There was also shock to hear what the children had been through and are still going through. All the children we were working with are already facing systemic disadvantage in their lives and many had been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. The majority of the children come from inner-city Nottingham where there are very few private gardens, overcrowded accommodation and a lack of access to the green spaced for exercise and respite (all things that keep people in more privileged and less urbanised ares sane during lockdowns).
School under new restrictions was very different for most children, with access to extra support seriously curtailed as children were put into bubbles: no extra-curricular clubs, no singing, limited music, and specialist support units in schools such as English as an additional language units temporarily closed.
There was also shock and huge respect for what the teaching staff had been doing: door-to-door visits of their most vulnerable children during lockdowns and isolation periods, juggling huge increases in admin and workload with staff off sick or isolating, dealing with ever-changing guidance, parents’ anxiety and confusion … Not to mention having to work in draughty cold classrooms with windows wide open to decrease the risks of contamination! Big respect to them all.
But there was also lots of joy!
We loved seeing children act like children again! It didn’t take long for anxious-looking children who arrived in the woods silent and nervous about all the new Covid rules, to relax and unwind in a totally different environment. By the second week in their programmes we saw them start to forget themselves and the situation they’ve been in, as the woods gave them the opportunity to run, make noise, play, lie like starfish on a sunny hill, be silent in hammocks, swing on rope swings and even have snowball fights.
Funding from Youth Music also meant that we could bring three incredible musicians out to the woods, where they were able to safely let children sing, compose lyrics and try the instruments they brought with them. Watching the smiles on children’s faces as they sang round a huge camp fire together or recorded a song they had written on top of a sunny hill was gold dust (you can check out some of their musical compositions on our website!)
2020 showed us how powerful the help and contributions of friends and strangers can be and the difference it can make to children’s lives! Also hope because children are so resilient – with a bit of extra help they have such big capacities for joy in the things that adults often forget to notice. They have a lot to teach us about coping mechanisms in an uncertain world.
Hope also because teachers and teaching assistants are amazing and have already gone above and beyond and are unbelievably brave and committed against all the odds.
We now know just how much extra support children and young people need to cope with the traumatic scenarios in their lives that this pandemic is creating and exasperating. We can’t wait to get them back out to the woods!
We hope that 2021 will eventually bring us all better times, and much more awareness of the role teachers play, the importance of children’s mental health, and of looking after the planet for their future.
What children and teaching staff have to say
- “School feels really different at the moment – nothing feels the same.”
- “School isn’t really fun at the moment and then when I get home I have to do Mosque on the phone for 2 hours.”
- “I really miss arts and crafts club – that’s when I would get to do the things I love with my friends.”
- “I haven’t been to the park for nearly a year – my Mum won’t let me go because it’s full of crackheads.”
- “I don’t want to go back to reality. There’s nothing else to look forward to in the week.” (at the end of a 6-week Forest School programme)
- “She’s forgotten all her English since lockdown.” (one girl explaining why her friend was so quiet)
- “The children’s behaviour has really changed since lockdown – year 6 have been wild! We are taking into account how much they have been through. It’s so good for them to be out at Wild Things and to have 2 hours a week without stress and anxiety.” (Teacher)
- “Some of the girls are really anxious about making mistakes (probably because of all the new rules and restrictions) – we are really trying to slow them down – it is perfect that it is so relaxing out here!” (Teacher)
- “They were so silent on the bus on the way here – it’s so hard for them – not even being able to sit next to each other and all wearing masks – I’m already noticing the smiles back on their faces out here! Out here there are plenty of things to distract them from their anxieties about Covid!” (Teacher)
- “It’s great for them to get out and move around. At school at the moment it sometimes feels colder inside than outside, with all the doors and windows having to be open!” (Teacher)
WITH MENTAL HEALTH:
- Yes! We’re in nature! I’ve been waiting for this for so long!”
- “This makes me feel so alive!”
- “This is my happy place!”
- “Does it sometimes feel like this is your home? It feels like my second home out here – it feels a bit more like home than home! The trees make me feel so peaceful. Where I live is so noisy and all there is are houses and cars.”
- “I feel good now!”
- “I just want to sit in the sunshine looking at this view forever!”
- “I think it should be called Freedom Country Park – not Bestwood Country Park!”
- “Can’t we just live out here??”
- “I couldn’t sleep last night because I was looking forward to coming to the woods too much.”
- “I wish I had a time machine so I could come back and do this all again and again!”
- “I love being in the hammock – it makes me feel like I’m lying on a cloud – it makes my worries go away.”
- “I’ve only been in England for a year and this is the first time I’ve seen sand here!”
- “I’ve always wanted to see snow! In my country there is no snow! This is magical!”
- “This reminds me so much of my home in Romania – so many trees and all the space – the things I’ve made out here will remind me of the woods and home too.”
- “The mood was so much lighter this week at school, because the children knew what they had to look forward to on Friday!” (teacher)
- “That’s the third time this week at Wild Things that I’ve heard a child say that it’s been the best day of their life!” (Teacher)
- “I didn’t think I could get by on the paths – I’m not very fit. But now I feel like an explorer!”
- “It’s great for the children who just need to use their bodies more – sometimes they think something is wrong because their legs ache, but they are just not used to exercise!” (Teacher)
- “At home I’m just on my iPad – out here there’s everything to do and see!”
WITH SUPPORTING SOCIAL AND EDUCATIONAL DEVELOPMENT:
- “It’s wonderful to see them helping each other out here and translating for each other – they are helping each other back at school too.” (teacher)
- “They can express themselves here – they have built the confidence and courage to speak and have a voice. They are normally silent in the whole class setting because they are afraid that if they use the wrong English, the other kids will laugh at them. They are like different children out here.” (Teacher accompanying an EAL group September 2020)
- “It’s been brilliant for them – they are all so engaged.” (Teacher)
- “These girls in particular benefit from a girls-only space. They are more empowered out here because at school they are afraid that the boys are going to laugh at them if they say something wrong.” (Teacher accompanying all-girls group)
So thank you so much for all your support!
If you would like to know more about the work of Wild Things, to keep track of what we are up to, and to view some of the photos and music recordings from the children who came out in September to December, check out our home page!
Golden leaves, music and more!
– one windy Wednesday, 18th November 2020 –
Hello from the windy, golden-leaf Bestwood!
A whole half-term and a half has already passed and we have had a good amount of sunshine, wind, rain, fallen leaves and chestnuts on our site.
Some very good things happened in the time since we started working back in the woods:
we were delighted to receive funding from the government’s Coronavirus Community Support Fund, distributed by The National Lottery Community Fund, to support us in the delivery of our Forest School Programmes. This funding means we now know we can bring more children out for more programmes. Always great news!
The other very exciting thing that has been happening over the last weeks is our new music project we have been running.
That’s right, at the start of this school year we have launched our new project, Wild Sounds: Getting Louder that is co-funded by the Art’s Council Youth Music fund. A few years ago we embarked on our first musical project, Wild Sounds, and as it proved to be very successful, we thought we’d give it another go, get more people involved and offer it to the new generation of children that we are working with.
Wild Sounds: Getting Louder is aiming to enable children to experience the woodland through a musical lens, to help them discover the sounds and musicality in the natural world (there is plenty, you just need to listen!) and, equally, to help them discover their own aptitude for making sounds and songs (there is plenty, you just need to give them an opportunity!).
To help us do that we are working in cooperation with local music artists Rob Green and Ben Welch, two very talented musical and performance artists who have shared their talent and love for music with the children. They had a chance to explore their own voices, rhythm, they played musical games, learned about new instruments, wrote their own song lyrics and made music.
We have discovered many hidden talents, lots of real love for dancing or making music and saw even the most quiet children get happily involved in the activities. We are very pleased with the start of the project, it has brought new and unique experiences to the children.
A lot of the children we are working with do not get an opportunity in school to play music, sing in a choir or learn how to play an instrument, so to be able to do that in the woods with us was a very exhilarating and empowering experience for some.
We are happy we were able to sing along with them!
Listen to some of the kids’ creations and tune in for more next time!
We're back in the Woods!
– the first autumn Monday, 21st September 2020 –
“I’m so excited to be in the woods – I’ve waited so long to come!”
(one of the girls on her first session)
The time has finally come for Wild Things and the children we work with to come back to the woods! We all received a beautifully sunny welcome from the woods of Bestwood Country Park, with the birches still vibrantly green and the buzzards calling above.
In the first half-term of the new school year we are working with nurture groups from the NG7 area (Forest Fields, Hyson Green, Radford) for children with English as an Additional Language and all-girls groups.
It has been fantastic to finally get children out to the woods again and the staff have reported that children have been returning to school absolutely buzzing about their time in the woods. All the teachers have been delighted that the children have finally got out and have commented on the massive strain the kids are facing and the toll on their emotional resilience and have said that to have time in a stress-free and neutral environment is essential for their emotional recovery. The highlight of our first week back for us was seeing the first group of 10-year-olds from inner-city Nottingham arrive. They came to the woods in a taxi, all wearing masks. As they piled out of the taxi, one girl pulled down her mask, looked up at the trees and threw her arms up in the air with a massive grin on her face saying: “Nature!! At last!!” This was the first time out in nature since March for the majority of the children we worked with this week and 2 of our children told us that it was their first time ever in a woodland. You can imagine how excited we are to be able to spend some time with them!
What we also found a sobering and important piece of information about how the lockdown affected some children as well, was speaking to a very quiet girl with English as an Additional Language who did not say very much and her friend explaining that she forgot all her English during the lockdown. The social isolation of children, families and communities has taken a toll in many forms and this can be one of them. That was something we did not think about before we met the child, but it has given us a lot of thought since. We want to also say, though, that whilst she was quiet at first, we were really happy to see that she was starting to chat with us and the others by the end of the session.
See you again soon, with more acorns and fallen leaves!
Rainy June Update
– a wet and cool Thursday afternoon, 11th June 2020 –
Here we are again, a month after our first post on our blog and a month since the publication of the article in the Guardian that has brought many people to this website. Many things have changed in the meantime, not just the weather!
We received an amazing response from the article – our Crowdfunder page received many donations, our website was visited by many people happy to donate funds as well and so many beautiful letters of support and donations from individuals came through our letterbox.
We would like to say a huge THANK YOU to everyone!
We have now managed to raise over £3000 and all of that money will go towards Wild Things running programmes in the woods with children from inner city Nottingham.
Thank you for ensuring our work continues for that much longer.
The pandemic continues, but the lockdown measures are slowly being changed, and we do not know what that will mean for Wild Things. We are hoping to get children out to the woods again as soon as it is safe to do so, to enjoy all the benefits of the physical and mental space, and to help them recover from the last few months. We are busy preparing so that we are ready to get back into action when the time is right and the groups we work with are ready. Currently the majority of funding is being directed at the very important issues of Covid Care. Accessing funding for longer term projects has therefore never been so hard. Wild Things, like so many other projects, is expecting that our precarious situation will most probably continue for a while to come.
That is why we have decided to keep our Crowdfunder going for now, and we would like to ask you to continue supporting us if you can, by spreading the word about us and our work and introducing more people to the sort of work that we do and the importance of it, particularly in these days.
We are excited about the day we will be able to report to you about the sessions we have organized with your donations. Hopefully that will not be too far in to the future.
Thank you again and take care until next time!
Our new website!
– one sunny Friday, 15th May 2020 –
Welcome to our new website and our first post on our new blog!
These days are both exciting and scary for us – with the Covid-19 pandemic we are, like many other small organisations in our field, going through a rough patch of work being on hold and uncertain times ahead. We are hoping that the coming weeks will clear that uncertainty somewhat.
But we are also excited about our voice making it through the ether of the internet again. We have just started changing our website and it will soon be complete, with all the information, photos and exciting ideas you can imagine.
Another exciting bit of news is the fact that we have featured in the Guardian!
Last weekend an article “I feel I’ve come home’: can forest schools help heal refugee children?” presented our work and mission to the wider public. Written by Patrick Barkham, it is an extract from his recently published book Wild Child. We have had some great responses from readers and have also received kind donations. We are very grateful for that, as the world ahead does not seem to be very clear on the future of forest school provisions and any resources coming in now will help secure our organisation for a bit longer.
We have set up a Crowdfunder page that you can access here. If you would like to contribute, please do.
And we will see you soon with a complete website and a new blog post!