Gareth - Actif Woods Merthyr Tydfil and Connecting People and Nature

“Actif Woods Wales and Connecting People and Nature have built my confidence after a breakdown and given me a new proactive mindset”

In 2018 I had a nervous breakdown; I was working too hard and pushed myself too hard. At that point in my life just walking to the local shop – about three minutes away – resulted in me trembling all over. When I sat down at home I was in tears. I just couldn’t believe how bad it was. I lost my job and wasn’t sure what was going to happen next. The job Centre put me in touch with Gofal, a mental health charity, and they told me about the Actif Woods Wales Programme who were running an OCN in Hand Tools at the time. I thought it might look good on my C.V., so I agreed to go.

I was really nervous when it was the first day of the course – I think I thought, “I don’t really want to do this” but I forced myself to do it and I am glad that I did now. Being on the course gave me a big boost to my confidence and I came out of it with a new hobby and a new mindset really. Instead of worrying about everything – just ‘go for it’ – that is it really – my new mindset is ‘just go for it!’. Joining this group has made me think that new things are not necessarily bad – if it is something that I haven’t done before – just go out there and do it.

I have learnt so many skills on the Actif Woods course and on the monthly drop-in groups that they also run – hand tool safety and use, woodworking, I’ve made keyrings and learnt all about foraging. It is kind of therapeutic really, there is something very therapeutic about mindlessly scraping away at wood to create something. Socially, it is great to come along and have a chat to people – it is actually helped to build my confidence up in a group. I’ve made some new friends too. I also started volunteering for Connecting People and Nature which is a programme that encourages the local community to improve, maintain and use the nature reserves in my local area. I even talked to a crowd of people at the Actif Woods Stakeholder event, something I have never done before. Beforehand my anxiety levels were ‘through the roof’, but I stood up and gave a speech - I felt so good for doing it – I had a release of endorphins I was really proud of myself.

Going forward now, I have even thought about maybe looking for work in this kind of area – wildlife and woodlands – before I just thought that I might go back into the work that I have always done, but this experience has broadened my mind and made me look at work that might be more fulfilling. The work that I do at the moment, with Connecting people with Nature, is voluntary but what I am getting from it is fulfilment. Now, when I walk through the nature reserve I can say, ‘I helped with that’. Being able to help and get out of the house is great for me.

Since starting the Actif woods programme I have found the confidence to do so many other courses – I have trained to be a councillor and I am doing a peer mentoring course so that I can help people with the kind of problems that I have had like anxiety and depression. I have had the experience of this now – I’d like to share that with other people. It has helped me and maybe it could help them too.

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