Finding our Woodland Ways

I am always interested in the different journeys the Woodland Ways team have taken. We’re quite a diverse lot and I’m sure some of our paths would have never crossed if it wasn’t for our shared love of bushcraft and the outdoors. One thing I can say without a doubt is that I am extremely glad they did!

Growing up on a council estate in Hull I never dreamed that I would be here now. I was lucky enough to have grown up in a time when I could leave the house in the morning and spend my whole day outdoors, either with our dog or out riding one of our horses. My Dad was a rag and bone man (amongst many other things), so we always had horses tethered here and there around the estate. I never gave a second thought to how lucky I was to be able to grab a horse, a packed lunch and disappear for the whole day, exploring places I could never get to on foot.

Fast forward thirty years or so and I realise what an amazing learning experience it provided and what a privilege that freedom was. It made me so sad that my children would never be able to experience that kind of freedom and autonomy, so I set about finding them the closest thing to it and that thing turned out to be home educating.

I knew I wanted to take the kids to a forest school but soon found plenty of barriers. Cost being the main one, with three neurodivergent children at home and with only one working adult the cost was beyond us. Not only that but all the forest schools separated their groups into ages, we wanted to learn together but with ages 2, 4 and 12 it was tricky.

So, I bought a couple of tarps and we set off to find somewhere local we could meet with other families in the same position as us and create our own little forest school. That was in 2018. The group grew and had core members that would join us every week, all year round.

Our first home ed forest school 2018

The local council were supportive but I needed training so we could have a winter fire, which I did but it became obvious that my lack of training and experience would become an issue. I decided to undertake a forest school leader training programme, the group had been going for a couple of years now and it seemed time to move forward. To say I struggled with this would be an understatement! I couldn’t afford the face-to-face sessions so had to do the whole thing online. Anyone with ADHD will tell you that sitting in front of a computer going over things you already know to prove your knowledge is almost impossible but thanks to the COVID lockdowns there wasn’t much else to do. Needless to say, there were many extensions, but I got there in the end!

Because we were an educational group we could run as long as the schools were open. I began to realise that our little group was not only a lifeline during the pandemic when many were really struggling with the mental health issues it caused and exasperated, it was growing, and we needed a new site. I reached out to the local parish council, and they offered us a place in our local park, with a site of our own! With their support and a lot of help from one of the volunteers at the park community group (you know who you are Dave!) We had a brand-new site.

The new site before
The new site after

So, three years in and we have grown. I kept the group profit free and sourced funding wherever I could. The family and I worked hard to keep the group as accessible as possible, offering an unstructured free forest school for families and children with special educational needs. No booked slots to cause stress if getting out was an issue, no rigid activities to be completed, no limits on time you could spend at the sessions and no drop off so families could learn and stay together.

To repay the parish for their support we ran free half term sessions for the local families too. It was all going so well and then I heard those dreaded words……“I’m bored! Can we do stuff with knives?” The kids were growing up and the teenagers wanted more and that ‘more’ was bushcraft. Time to get some funding and look at training. I started looking around and this is how I found Woodland Ways.

I booked the Bushcraft Fundamentals course having never attempted anything like it before, I had no idea what to expect but fully expected it to be a very military, serious and in my past experiences male dominated with a liberal sprinkling of patronising to boot. I couldn’t have been more wrong!

To say that one course at Woodland Ways changed everything for us might sound a bit dramatic but it did. I’d gone from banging my head against a boring computer screen for two years getting qualified to a practical, hands-on day of experience with a team that cared and were so passionate about their work it was impossible not to get swept up in it. For once in my life I didn’t feel like my ADHD was a barrier to moving forward. The instructor that day assured me that If I forgot anything I could call them and go over the gaps with them. In their words “This knowledge is yours now, you can access it anytime. Just call”

I never did make that call; I didn’t need to. What I did was to scrimp and save to book myself on every course I could with them. Kuksa cup making, spoon carving, basketry, tool use and maintenance workshops, foraging and flint knapping! I took that knowledge back to my families and things really started to change. I studied the instructors and transferred those amazing teaching methods and skills I had learnt to my setting. My confidence and the group took off. I was able to bring skills to my community and to families from deprived areas that would otherwise be unable to access them either due to personal circumstances or financial barriers.

We ran free and at cost sessions for charities supporting young people and adults with disabilities, home education sessions, toddler sessions, an NHS backed green prescribing group for adults with mental health issues, whilst during the holidays we put on free sessions providing activities and free meals for the local children.

On a boring admin day earlier in the year in one of my many distracted moments, I noticed a post in the Woodland Ways group asking for people to volunteer for a filming weekend to promote the business. I put my name forward without thinking it through (of course). I had never spent a night away from my children in 9 years as a home ed family we did everything together. Not to worry, hundreds of people will put their names forward, I never win stuff or get picked. But I had! So, as I packed my kit for the weekend, I explained to my children just why they were being ‘abandoned’ by their mother for two days, I was now getting pretty nervous too.

The filming weekend that followed was another massive life event for me. I had too many new experiences to blather on about here (see the video for said blathering) I met a bunch of amazing people and got to have a life changing chat with Jason Ingamells during which I was offered an apprenticeship! I was absolutely thrilled to say the least. Jason very thoughtfully asked if I needed some time to think about it, I did. About 10 seconds!!

In the months that have passed since that conversation I have been caught up in a wonderful whirlwind of support, learning, new experiences, new friends, and a sense of family with colleagues that I never thought possible. It has come with its challenges. The biggest one for me has been to let go and trust the people around me. Working alone with just immediate family to help for such a long time has meant that being part of a team doesn’t come naturally. As I get to know the team and gain more experience, I see that there was never any need to worry.

Every single member of the Woodland Ways team is so knowledgeable and passionate about bushcraft. On top of the foundation of skills, each member has their own specialist area they pursue and bring to the Woodland Ways family. Observing each member of the team as they take groups along their journey is truly inspiring.

Our game session for the Hobby Talk group

Their support for the forest school, our family and me as an apprentice has been more valuable than they could ever know. One of my favourite sessions is game prep with the guys from Hobby Talk (a fantastic local men’s group who support each other’s mental health and combat isolation by sharing hobbies) wouldn’t have been possible without the generosity and support of Woodland Ways.  By giving me a chance to access skills and experiences that would have otherwise been impossible due to financial barriers, they are also giving those opportunities to children and adults from a community which would never have the disposable income to do so, hopefully in the process inspiring the next generation of instructors.

So that’s me and my journey so far. I’m looking forward to being able to share all my apprenticeship experiences here, like one of my first times canoeing, when I wrapped Jason around a tree (oops) and trying flintknapping then discovering to my surprise that I absolutely loved it! In the meantime, I’ll be working hard to repay the faith put in me by Jason and the team while continuing my work bringing forest school and bushcraft to the home education and local community.


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