Pictures: Conversation and crafts... down in the woods today
Project shows how Sheffielders worked the city's woodlands for centuries
Heather Hunt of the Sheffield Women’s Conversation Club is excited about string and mallets.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity. We’ve had kids as young as four and their parents and grandparents learning how to use mallets and make beautiful string out of rushes,” she said. “The day has brought it home that there are all sorts of crafts going on in our woods.”
Many Conversation Club members are refugees and asylum seekers, and some found the techniques demonstrated at the Ecclesall Woodland Discovery Centre last week similar to crafts from their home countries, said Heather.
The Under the Trees Woodcraft project will culminate this Sunday at the Ecclesall Woods Spring Fair, held at the Woodland Discovery Centre from 10am to 4pm.
Over the last year, the project has shown local people how Sheffielders have worked the city’s woodlands for centuries.
“We’ve been inviting people to come into the woods to try different woodcraft activities, and offered training to people who might volunteer in future,” said Viv Scone from Under The Trees Woodcraft. “And we’ve run open days like this to help people learn about our woodland heritage.”
The Heritage Lottery Funded project has seen 100 people learning skills like coppicing, carving, weaving and tool handling. Several new banners have also been created for future education work.
Craft sessions have been held for voluntary groups, local scout groups and for the Help for Heroes charity for service people injured in conflict.
“We held six sessions where Help for Heroes people came to Ecclesall Woods to try woodwork crafts, and these were people with post traumatic stress and recovering from battle injuries,” said Viv. “They said it had been great therapy in an absolutely fantastic place, and had been both relaxing and stimulating at the same time.”
The project also ran ‘pop- up bodger’ sessions in Ecclesall Woods where walkers might casually encounter craftspeople carving or using a pole lathe by a footpath.
Under The Trees Woodcraft ran alongside the existing craft courses at the Woodland Discovery Centre which are proving ever more popular with people travelling from all over the UK to learn how to make stools, walking sticks, and garden sculptures, and pick up skills about everything from basket making to bronze smelting.
Although the courses carry a fee, many of the people who keep them running are volunteers, and Viv and Under The Trees colleague Nadine Grundy are pleased that many new volunteers have come forward during the year of the project.
“It’s been about passing on skills, and many people are now taking away what they’ve learned and using those skills in their own gardens,” said Nadine.
Heather Hunt has taken part in several woodcraft courses herself, and said: “You can easily buy a wooden spoon for a pound, but if you come here and make one over a couple of hours you feel really special because you’ve made something beautiful with your own craft and skill. I’m not surprised these things are making a comeback.”
The crafts of the Outdoor City’s woodlands are not likely to die out while volunteers like Viv and professional woodworkers like Nadine Grundy are busy teaching newcomers of all ages the skills of centuries past.
“The more we can make use of outdoor spaces, and the more people can coexist and get what they need from them the better,” said Viv.
The team are also asking for tool donations: if you have any old woodworking tools, the Ecclesall team can resharpen them for future use by volunteers, community groups and charities.
“This HLF project is finishing, but we have lots of resources and materials and volunteers and we’ll continue to do our bit to keep people interested in the woods, their history and all the new things coming on,” said Viv. “Because nothing stays still, it’s always changing.”
For more information: Discovery Centre