BRINGING WOODLANDS TO LIFE

Melanie, Swansea Monthly Woodland Group

 I retired four years ago this week. I'd been a history teacher for 35 years plus. Teaching was a bit of an all-consuming job for me, I found that things like hobbies and interests got pushed aside. For me, it was a question of re-evaluating what was next. I am a strong believer that retirement is a start and not an end. I wanted to actually go outside my comfort zone and learn something new. So, when I saw on Facebook the advert for the Actif Woods Session with Bushcraft and stuff like that I thought that sounds cool! I'll give it a go! I was quite apprehensive on the first session when I arrived because it was all men and I wondered who on earth I would talk too. To be honest, I thought I’ll try it once, but I probably won’t come back - as I said this was out of my comfort zone. In reality, I had an absolutely fantastic morning and I couldn't wait for the next session! And I've been going ever since. That process of starting and challenging what I felt comfortable with actually taught me a lot about myself. Some of those guys I became quite friendly with and really got on with them well. I think that the diversity of the group is a strength. I'm open to meeting all sorts of people - but in my life, I have tended to meet a rather narrower group of people. So, I've learned a lot. When you are all sitting down and chatting making something in the Woods - it is a different thing - it is like we are all equal there.

I have the fortune of being married to a guy who is fantastic at DIY, but I'd never done anything like that. I'd never used a drill or any tools. I'm in my mid-60s now and I went to a girls’ grammar school where you did a couple of years of needlework and cookery and that was it. The Actif Woods group was so encouraging of me because I thought that I was really cack-handed and rubbish at first - but they were all so great. You know, we'd laugh, we’d have a cup of tea, and we’d have a joke. When I first started you couldn't keep me quiet about it - I had learned how to make fire without a match and I was talking about it for weeks! my daughters kept saying “hang on their Bear Grylls“ - it was so good and I have absolutely loved it. I took to it like a duck to water.

I think women generally lack confidence when they think about being in the outdoors and doing practical tasks. But what I have found is that confidence breeds confidence. Once you have a go at one thing you start realizing that you can do much more. Interestingly it has given me the confidence to do other things, so just before lockdown, I was in the middle of doing a carpentry course. I would never have thought of doing that because I would have thought, “I can't do that” or I would have been worried that it was going to be all men. Also, the Actif Woods session that particularly inspired me was wand making. I absolutely loved it and it lit a spark for me. For Christmas, I asked for a knife and we cleared some space in my husband’s workshop and I've been making wands ever since. I now have my own Instagram account for my wands, and I have even sold a few. I was invited to take my wands and talk about the process of using native wood to make them at a wellbeing festival which unfortunately has been cancelled due to COVID-19. So, it's been a really big change in my life. I spend a few hours every week out in my shed - where the magic happens as I say - working with wood is very calming and very mindful and it helps me relax such a lot and I get so much joy out of it.

I have also found that I spend so much more time in the woods nowadays – I try and get out in nature all of the time now. Before joining Actif Woods, long walks were infrequent or something that we did

on holidays. I do find that being in amongst the trees particularly is very calm and a very relaxing environment. My daughters also spend more times outdoors than they ever did before.

During lockdown, I have tried to keep myself as busy as possible – as this takes my mind off things. It has been great that Actif Woods has been able to carry on delivering sessions online for our group. These sessions have been really informative. I have learned about tracking animals, the different types of trees and about reading the landscape. It has been really interesting and given me things to look out for when my husband and I are out on our walks.

Being part of Actif Woods has led to so many new experiences, hobbies and interests for me, but I think what I value most is meeting up with a diverse group of people and sharing a common task. Whether that is learning how to light a fire, foraging, making a spatula or making wooden reindeers. I suppose you could get a book or watch a YouTube video and have a go at all of those things on your own, but it wouldn't be half as much fun! It's being in a group and having shared experiences that I value most.

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