Sheffield Friends group's woodland project inspires confidence for city's adults

An outdoor learning project run by a Sheffield Friends group has raised the level of confidence in adults across the city and improved their future prospects.

Friday, 19th November 2021, 9:37 am
The Woodland Confidence project aims to teach adults woodland skills whilst also working to improve mental health, inspire confidence, and improve employability.

Manor Fields Park is an oasis of green found two miles outside Sheffield city centre, and for the last two months it has been the location for a radical project to improve the wellbeing of some of the city’s adults.

Friends of Manor Fields Park applied for funding to run a two month outdoor Woodland Confidence project running from September 15 – November 11 to support Sheffield adults by teaching them new skills, inspiring confidence and improving their mental health.

Funding of £440 was gained from Newground Together’s Community Grant Programme, and matched by Small Health Grants, providing Friends of Manor Fields Park £880 to deliver the project.

Outdoor activities are recognised to boost mental health.

Belle Paterson, community development officer at Newground Together, said: “Although the project is focused on teaching skills needed in the outdoors, participants have also improved their personal resilience and learnt wider skills.

"There has been access to support for further training opportunities and the chance to volunteer. The project has seen a ripple effect where skills from this experience are passed on to family members, friends and the wider community.”

As part of the Woodland Confidence project an outside classroom has been created where qualified forest school tutoring is delivered to the participants that are taking part.

The classroom is a quality green space within the park in a small clearing away from the main path, and maintained by Green Estate Ltd. When the project finishes the outside classroom will remain as it is to be used as an asset for other community groups.

The Woodland Confidence course is designed to grow confidence in participants, teach new skills, and build positive connections.

Most sessions have included mindful practices which have built up to longer meditative periods and by the end of the project all participants will be able to assemble a shelter, build a fire and cook a communal feast without help from the leader.

This holistic approach of embracing good mental health practices as well as working to improve practical skills has proved to be beneficial for many of the adults involved in the project.

Rose Tomson, woodland wellbeing course leader, said: “We have worked with particular providers and the park ranger to be able to make the sessions more comfortable and accessible. Some participants have been working hard outside the course to practise skills they are learning.

"One regular participant revealed that he has been watching YouTube videos of bushcraft knots and learning them at home, another said he now looks at the park in an entirely different way, seeing plants that can be eaten or used medicinally and has tuned into the soundscape.”

The outdoor classroom where woodland skills are taught is in a clearing in Manor Fields Park.

Friends of Major Fields Park meet monthly and work to connect nature activities, skill sharing, peer support and guided support which allows individuals to reach their full potential and improves their quality of life.

The project works with nature, which is known to help improve mental health, make people feel less worried and anxious and increase positive emotions, bringing calm to daily life. Those who are offered a place on the course were referred from other support groups for the social prescribing activity, although they can also be self-referred.

Greener Practice is another Sheffield initiative which focuses on nature to boost mental health and improve health outcomes by prescribing outdoor activities as a possible alternative to medication.

Noreen Muzaffar, PR officer for the Together Housing Group, said: “This project has been run before and because it was so successful they decided to run it again.”

On the Woodland Confidence course, participants learn skills including how to build a fire, assemble a shelter, and cook a communal feast.

In fact, a previous course member assisted on this project so that she could be involved in delivering a similar course in her neighbourhood.

Noreen added: "The course focuses on helping to get adults back into employment. Because they have been working with qualified forest school tutors, they can complete outdoor tasks more confidently by themselves.

"Forest schooling is quite popular nowadays. By studying in an outside classroom you can help connect with nature and of course this brings mental health benefits. The project also benefits people in the wider community - it has created more volunteer opportunities with Friends of Manor Field Park such as helping maintain the park.

"Because the outdoor school is going to stay where it is other groups like the scout group and home-schooling families will be able to access it.”

Other benefits brought by the project to the local community include increasing involvement with the community allotment and creating links with other local support groups.

The natural environment enables participants to open up and talk about issues affecting them because they feel more comfortable in their surroundings. There is a mutual level of respect within the group and people are ready to listen to each other.

The Woodland Confidence course is designed to grow confidence in participants, teach new skills, and build positive connections.

Participants have now been signposted to other activities in the community such as Take Part in the Garden Self Care group, healthy cooking, wellbeing craft sessions and a range of local volunteering including the Green Estate Ltd volunteer group at Manor Fields Park and supporting the Friends of Manor Fields park.

They may also join other group activity in the local area or go onto further training such as organised visits to Northern College forestry confidence and Skills.

Diane Cairns, a Friends of Manor Fields Park volunteer trustee, said: “Projects such as Woodland Confidence are beneficial to the local community as well as to the people they are aimed at. This particular project helps individuals gain confidence and new skills in a warm and safe environment.

"Overall, Woodland Confidence has been very beneficial.”