Staff member Emma Drew shares her reflections on our Life Skills Course, ‘Nature as Therapy’.

I was lucky enough to attend Nature as Therapy’s third session of four with a small group of women who have been involved in various Genesis activities. The Nature as Therapy course, led by practitioner Lucy Baile, is one of many short courses people can sign up to at our Gateway Centre. The aim of these activities is to provide space for people to explore their wellbeing and make connections with themselves, their life, others around them, the wider community and the environment. What I experienced in the few hours I spent with these women in the woods is testament to these aims becoming reality.

After we were expertly driven in a minibus by volunteer Annie into the countryside, we walked for about 20 minutes along country lanes and footpaths lined with twine and hedgerows, finally settling in the woods, where the session was held.

One of the women had mobility issues and it was a real effort for her to get to the site, but another participant held her safely by the arm the whole way, reassuring her and encouraging her. Even though she’d managed the walk on previous weeks, the difference in weather meant each journey had its own challenges. It was clear that each week she’d overcome them, growing in confidence and determination.

The woods we came to sit in gently sloped down to the canal. Through the trees we saw the occasional longboat tug past, leaving trails in the water in its wake. Birds sang all around us whilst a woodlouse or beetle crawled along the logs we sat on. The breeze rustled through the canopy above us and the sunlight seeped through its leaves.

Once we were each settled around the ashen fire circle, we were asked by Lucy what we do in our own lives to nurture ourselves. Each person shared their stories whilst the group listened. Engaging with nature and animals were strong themes that ran around the whole circle and by the end of the sharing, we all felt a sense of nurturing each other through the telling.

As the various activities began, one woman shared homemade cakes, which were gluten free to include all in the group. Another had brought a flask of tea which was shared around. There was a real togetherness about the group and clear friendships which had been formed well beyond this single course.

We made small fires with flint and steal sticks, each taking a turn. Some participants found it tricky, but the group encouraged each other and shared techniques which has worked for them. We made necklaces from twisted twine, helping each other by passing scissors and tying knots. We cut small lengths of elder sticks to make beads, hollowing out the soft middle with tent pegs and threaded them onto our necklaces. The smiles on each face as they proudly displayed their new jewelry said it all. In the middle of the woods, they had made something to wear back in the city.

As we made our way back along the narrow footpaths, necklaces safely tied, the women again supported each other, all the way back to the bus. The chatter on the way back to the Gateway Centre was evidence of the community built by the interweaving activities they had been involved in through Genesis Trust as well as the shared experience of supporting and encouraging each other in nature.