Case study: Jamie in Swansea and NPT

4 May 2023

Jamie – Woodland Wellbeing for Youth and Young People, Swansea and Neath Port Talbot 

Participant and volunteer 

I am twenty years old and have had a fascination with nature from when I was a really young child. When I was younger my parents had to keep a very close eye on me because at any given opportunity, I’d sneak off to go and look at nature. If I was out in the park, they wouldn’t be able to find me because I was off talking to the animals, building a fort or teaching other kids how to make little dolls out of sticks! I was always out in nature doing something. I’ve got lots of lovely memories of lying in the grass and making daisy chains while looking up at the sky. Whereas all the other kids would be out of their bikes, I would be planting or digging and getting dirty. If we went to the beach, I would be looking at the unique patterns of the shells or finding out about marine life. I was also very drawn to climbing mountains. Nearly every day, after school or on the weekend I would be climbing up the local mountain with my friends.

I am a very creative person and I often draw inspiration for my music, art or writing from nature. However, once I got into the adult world, I found it harder and harder to take the time to be in nature and take the time for my creative hobbies. After finishing school, I found employment in several places, the convenience shop, the call centre and bar work. My life became busier and more stressful and that meant that I never had the chance to really connect with or spend time in nature.  

My mental health hit an all-time low point a few months ago. This impacted how I was able to do my job and, in the end, I found I wasn’t able to go to work. I was then coping with the idea of losing my job and a significant drop in income. I was worried about how I was going to survive on a day-to-day basis with no money and I was at risk of becoming homeless. I also had to give up my pet to save money. My mental health got so bad that I wasn’t able to hold any of my relationships and I didn’t have anyone to support me and say: ‘Hey you’re not doing well, let’s put life on pause for a moment’. I didn’t know how to go about navigating all of this on my own. At that time, I didn’t feel like a person, I felt like everything I had and everything I was doing wasn’t real. Eventually, I was diagnosed as suffering from an extreme episode of borderline personality disorder (BPD). It was an extreme low in my life that is hard to talk about. People with BPD get put in a box a lot and people don’t want to be around us and that makes it even harder for me to feel that I can be part of a group.  

I was referred to Llamau which supports homeless people and they told me about the Coed Lleol (Small Woods) Youth Group. It sounded interesting, but I was very nervous about going because I still wasn’t fully all there in myself or feeling comfortable being around people that I’d never met before. But after the first session, I felt amazing. I felt like I was starting to feel like myself again. I didn’t feel judged or like I was being monitored or under surveillance. It gave me a lot of clarity and the realisation that: “I am ok” and just because I didn’t have help then, doesn’t mean I can’t have help now. It made me realise being outside and in a group of like-minded people was really helpful for me.  

In the sessions I learnt about bushcraft, making balms, foraging, survival skills and outdoor cooking over the campfire. It was nice to use new skills, especially about being in nature because you never know when you might need them, if something goes wrong in these surroundings it is very helpful to know how to survive in the wild. I learnt so much more than these skills, I learnt how to slow down, focus on small tasks and not be so hard on myself – after all, you can’t build Rome in a day! 

Continuing with the weekly sessions was very helpful for me because I found that I now had the energy to do all of the things that I’d been putting off the entire week. As soon as I came home from the session, I’d be able to tidy my house and get back to reality a little. Then when I finished the project, I was offered the Woodland Wellbeing Volunteer position. I jumped on board because I felt like, ‘this is a place that appreciates me as an individual and I feel like I can genuinely do something and make a difference to somebody else’s life like they made a difference to mine’. I went from being a participant to volunteering on the same project to help other young people. 

The project itself gave me time and space to stop worrying about everything that I had been stressed about for four months straight. It gave me time to just go ‘Ahh, I’m in the woods, I’m surrounded by people who are intelligent, who are caring, and who see me. I don’t feel invisible. I don’t feel like a burden now. I don’t feel like I’m taking up someone’s space that I shouldn’t be.’ I felt like I deserved to be there. Having the support from Llamau and Coed Lleol has brought me back to being myself. I feel like a better version of myself, calmer but more energized. Of course, my mental health still affects me but now I have the skills and understanding to be able to support myself in a way that I didn’t have before. 

I feel like I have grown mentally and spiritually through being part of Coed Lleol and my confidence has grown too. I have started making the balms we learnt about during the session at home and selling them to family and friends. I’ve also registered to study Horticulture at college next year. I want to be able to get to the point where I’m well enough to turn this into a career whether that be working in the woods, horticulture, or agriculture. I feel that I have been given the time and space to rediscover that nature is my passion. Before this project, I never really had access to the means of putting that into action. Now I do it feels really good and affirming. This is what I want to do. I want to make a difference, whether that is in working in nature or working with people or young kids. I just want to make a difference. This project has helped me rediscover who I am, and it feels nice to be Jamie again.