A Cat in the Woods

scottnoble/ July 4, 2016/ Blog/ 0 comments

I’m Cat, I live in Peebles with my 2 teenage sons. Let me share with you how I became a volunteer for Nature Unlimited & how it’s changed my life.

I was a single parent & a family carer for my eldest son & my elderly father who had dementia till he passed away, so I had spent an awful lot of my time indoors. But as a self confessed tree huggin’ hippy, who adores being out, feeling at one with nature, I yearned to escape outdoors.

Around 4 years ago I was in the fortunate situation to be sitting in the most stunningly beautiful valley, virtually untouched by man for thousands of years, volunteering on an archaeological dig, smiling to myself, I thought ‘wow isn’t this the best ever workplace you could ever wish for’, that was my eureka moment. I made the decision at that moment to seek out more work in beautiful places in nature.

So when my son’s support worker told me about Forest School, I was all ears, I’d never heard about it before, with a wee bit of online research I learned about this wonderful way of benefiting people from being in outdoor environments, most often in woodlands.

I enquired & attended an induction day, where I met some lovely like minded souls, all of us with a love of nature & the wondrous outdoors, I just felt so comfortable, like it was so meant to be.

Once I got my PVG check through I was invited to volunteer on my first Forest School session with a group of teenagers, in South Park woods in Peebles. I knew very little other than my own childhood experience but was able to assist with activities such as den building & games, it was an awesome day. I went on to do my Forest School training, learning about what the ethos & a range of skills to become a trained Level 2 Forest School Assistant.

I have volunteered on various projects over the years & loved every one. We do a varied range of activities from fires, tool use to getting creative. Every session in the woods is unique, every day in the woods I learn or experience something new. I usually work on projects with school children, though as an organization, Nature Unlimited facilitates activities for all kinds of groups, such as adults with mental health issues & workplace team building initiatives. It’s just that I enjoy working with kids and particularly appreciate the challenge of kids with additional support needs. Children from all backgrounds gain a wide range of knowledge & skills during Forest School projects & it gives me so much joy to see what a positive difference, being on a project, makes for these kids.

I have just finished a 6 week project with 6 primary school kids (aged 9-11yrs) & their parents called ‘Wild about Family’ where the aim was to help build a stronger relationship between the parent & child. It was on a Thursday & ran from 10am till 2pm. I’d meet up with two friends who  also happen to be my forest leaders, pack up our kit for the day & head up to the woods. Each session we introduced the group to new activities, using the woodland itself as our playground, classroom & sustainable resource.

Over those weeks the group has built dens, bug hotels, built & lit their own fires, balanced on a slack line, met trees, made bows & arrows, played games, identified trees, went on a woodland walk creating a journey stick to then sit round the base camp fire using their stick to share their journey’s story…breathe…they have put up tarps for shelter, created various art & crafts from nature including ‘wookies’ (Chewbacca impersonations always welcome) which are wood cookies used as pendants, hapazomes (art using natural pigment from leaves & flowers), they’ve made charcoal sticks to draw on bark & they also gave trees ‘tree spirit’ faces made of clay, as well as so so much more. We always had our lunch in the woods, using kelly kettles for hot drinks & on the last session we had a cook-out, a veritable feast all cooked on our fire. We have sat quietly listening to bird song, laughed, sang, danced, climbed & howled like wolves.

I get so much out of volunteering for Nature Unlimited, it gets me out into the fresh air, no matter the weather, it keeps me fit & active, I benefit as much from being a woodland assistant as those attending, the woods are so therapeutic, Forest School so rewarding & I get to work alongside some of the most fabulous people I have ever met in the most beautiful of workplaces.

Walking home after each session I am usually dirty, smelling of wood smoke, the occasional wee twig in my hair, feeling calm, energized & renewed, smiling like a Cheshire cat.

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