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Feel better outside, feel better inside

We have been working with Pondhead Conservation Trust and Hampshire Art for Recreation and Therapy (hArt) on a pilot programme that uses the National Park for health and wellbeing.

This guest blog is written by Sam Lewis, Rachael Williams and Emily Spittle from hArt.

Spirit of the Forest is a 12-week art therapy programme that uses an outdoor setting as a therapeutic space. The therapy ‘room’ is a beautiful clearing in the New Forest National Park, in Pondhead Inclosure  near Lyndhurst.

The project team consists of lead art therapist Sam Lewis, artist/arts facilitator Rachael Williams and art student Emily Spittle (below). We provide a non-judgmental, consistent, safe space for a group of people with mental health issues to benefit from creative therapy. A therapy room is usually controlled by the therapist, but in the forest setting the power dynamics of the group become more balanced; everyone forms their own personal attachment with the space. The space is also shared by wildlife and other forest users, so can be stimulating in unpredictable ways too.

We began the programme in early autumn and together we are watching the forest slowly change around us, a living presence allowing us to breathe, slow down and awaken our own senses; to pause and take time. Weather conditions can be erratic, but we supply a tarpaulin for wet conditions, and warmth with tea and bacon sandwiches. The group has grown to love the space, whatever the forest and the seasons bring.

Working in the forest setting initially presented a variety of practical challenges but these have been embraced and have actually proven to be exhilarating opportunities. We have explored working with the natural materials at hand: creating hangings, marking paths and routes, and drying and stripping nettles for cordage. We have made vessels with clay and experimented with drawing and mark making using the Pondhead artist’s willow.

We look forward to every session with anticipation: we have grown to love our space and a trust and commonality is apparent in the processes of making and sharing. It’s a hugely rewarding experience that is basic and elemental and somehow feels ‘right’. The participants also face personal challenges each week in order to attend and we are grateful to them for taking this exciting leap with us into the unknown: the benefits for both them and us have been startling.

With the help that the National Park Authority and Pondhead Conservation Trust have provided us, we have been able to create a safe, comfortable environment where individuals can have the space and the time away from their lives to be creative. It's such a unique project and one that I think is so valuable; the healing power of nature is so underrated. It’s already clear how much people are benefiting from the programme, just being able to have a conversation and express yourself freely is really important.

In the Forest, the group becomes more of a social gathering where we share stories, support and experiences. We are so grateful to be given such an opportunity and to be part of a team doing such great work for people who really need the extra support. I hope that there will be many more projects like this to follow.

If you are interested in an outdoor art therapy course or an outdoor art therapy you can contact hArt for more details on 01590 683343 or 07881 363767

The New Forest National Park Authority supported this programme through advice and funding.

Pondhead Conservation Trust supported this programme by creating a bespoke glade for these activities and by enabling the volunteer work parties to gain access to the site.

This entry was posted by Communications on Monday 30/11/2015


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