A Shropshire woodland and social forestry programme has been expanded following a successful two-year pilot project.
Telford Woods was a partnership between Telford & Wrekin Council and the Small Woods Association, a national charity based in Coalbrookdale, and certain aspects of the programme are now continuing under a new social enterprise called Wrekin Forest Community Interest Company.
The programme engages the community in the sustainable management of local council-owned woodlands, the use of local forestry products and development of woodland spaces for education and improved health and wellbeing.
It includes children’s holiday activity clubs, projects involving armed forces veterans, the unemployed and some of the most vulnerable people within the Telford area.
Tristan Haynes, Social Enterprise Development Officer at Small Woods Association said: “Telford Woods was funded by Telford & Wrekin Council as part of a two-year pilot project which finished during the first lockdown.
“The idea was to ensure that certain aspects of the work we piloted could continue so Wrekin Forest Community Interest Company was set up as a subsidiary of Small Woods. These include our Children’s Holiday Activity Clubs, mainly funded as part of the essential Covid recovery by the Department of Education’s Healthy, Happy and Active Holiday Fund.
“Our Armed Forces Project is funded by the Armed Forces Covenant Trust. We have also secured funding aimed at setting up a Community Tree Nursery programme in the autumn – which will again see us involved in working with unemployed adults from the local area.”
One of the wider aims of Small Woods is to encourage more women into the forestry section, an industry that is still male dominated. With this in mind, the Women in the Woods project was developed. It is an eight-week women-only course led by Teresa Bailey and Suz Williams.
Teresa Bailey, Woodland and Craft Technician at Small Woods, said: “It’s a programme that has been well received by both participants and referring agencies, which include the mental health team and the social prescribing service.
“The first 12-week programme was over-subscribed and culminated in the creation of a willow sculpture, our very own Woman in the Woods. The second group is also full and they are learning more about the woodland that surrounds us here in Telford, developing craft skills and creating their own art piece from foraged materials. The popularity of the course proves there is an interest and need for this type of project.”
Like all social forestry projects, the premise of Women in the Woods is that time spent in the woodlands is beneficial to wellbeing, it can help tackle social isolation and improve mental health.
The sessions complement more mainstream mental health provision by building self-esteem and confidence while promoting connection with other women and with nature. Given the toll the pandemic and lockdown took on many people, there is clearly a growing need for these services.
S.D, a course participant who wishes to remain anonymous, said: “I really enjoyed the course. It was wonderful to meet new friends . . . it helped with mindfulness. I am usually very isolated and this gave me something to look forward to each week.”