I am writing to share with real sense of achievement to you all – after what has been quite a year – but we made it – with our thanks to you all for your support and belief in us as an organisation. We will enter the new year with our legs strong, and with hope and positivity in our hearts to continue to make a difference in 2021.
The last time I wrote we were in the depths of lockdown. The team were working from home but in regular touch, the birds were singing spring songs of connection, daffodils were out in golden glory and the world seemed cloaked in a sun filled haze of glorified nature. For those who were not suffering – it seemed as if the world stood still and the silence of the skies made us feel we were living in a past era before planes had been invented. I was poetical, inspired by a survival and adaptive energy, and ‘zoom’ felt like a novelty. My daily forest walks made me wiser, kinder and happier and in love with the wonders of the natural world – soaking up beauty in the tiny buds forming for spring, to deer tracks and new pale green shoots of promise…of life itself.
Without sounding like the grinch – things changed quite quickly after that come July. I resented the vapour trails that emerged in our clear blue sky, however shopping seemed back to normal without squabbles for imagined limited resources, and although we wore masks, we could see friends in small numbers and get back to work. There was what became known as the ‘new normal’.
Our work team were all back in and our groups of young people and adults came flooding back in for our care and services (much to our delight). It was evident that people needed the therapy of our professionals and all nature had to offer, and the wild could do with our care and attention in helping restore, rewild and continue to value. We loved being back with purpose again and our therapist association swelled with amazing new professionals working from all over the country online and then in Essex face to face.
Our clients included our special education needs and disability groups, our youth at risk, our conservation volunteers, wilderness therapy training and nature based outdoor therapists and clients. The site here at Chatham Green was buzzing and our lovely 100 acres of Mann Wood was filled with the chatter of groups of young people and therapists in training, and over time was rewilding itself and our Diamond Jubilee Woods reached new heights of growth. It was/is not unusual to find a therapist up a tree with a 6 year old, or a nature art piece reflecting someone’s deepest emotions on the ground in the woods, or hanging in the trees.
What we managed to achieve during lock down in terms of recruiting new staff and conducting more training has paid off as we are well resourced to offer help and support to those who have really struggled through Covid. We are deeply compassionate of young people and some adults, who are simply too fearful to venture out, others who are bored and got into significant trouble with gangs or were exploited, others whose mental health just deteriorated with the loss of schooling and routine, and for others the perils of being locked in at home in families that were in crisis became unmanageable. Some of the stories we hear are heart breaking and we are glad to be of professional support and human kindness.
Natural healing is at the fore of all this work…working away through a range of change agents for our troubled brains and souls…the quiet and calm helping calm stress and overworked minds, fractal patterns of leaves and boughs of trees soothing our tired brains and neurology, and the general beauty of the wild helping people to feel earthed and connected and have a sense of belonging and a connection. Nature is rather like the warm and embracing foster parent -even when it rains and is cold – offering tough love and making one feel better. Please find a moment to see a short film made by a cameraman Dan Stockman who offered his time during lockdown to work with our graduates on nature and covid. I think it is very moving. View here.
This past year has also enabled me to get deeply involved in the climate change crisis after taking on a role as an Essex Climate Action Commissioner. It has been a huge learning curve and the commission includes a range of outstanding scientists and professionals who hold oceans of knowledge. What a privilege to learn each week from them on a wide range of subjects including soil science, bio char, sustainable agriculture, natural capital, transport and energy, and how to best communicate and involve the community of Essex. I keep pushing for biodiversity, wildness, and landscape integrity and protection from our corner.
During the first lockdown our environmental team at the Foundation had also started on a new education initiative on Climate Change Education to roll out to schools and colleges either face to face or through podcasts and other media links. We have already made a short film to promote the work and have roll out plans for the new year. The positive side of online or podcasts is we can reach students anywhere in the world…so who knows what that will bring in time. We want to make sure that our climate change programme also educates about the role of wilderness and biodiversity as climate mitigation agents, rather than only focus on some of the more commonly known themes around renewable energy, waste etc.
We lost almost all our schools that visited regularly in 2020 as well as our wilderness trails to South Africa and elsewhere – and hope we can rebuild this once we are in a stronger position to meet face to face again in larger groups. We have all learned to adapt and reframe what we were familiar with to a more creative and responsive approach to what presents us as a reality. Sometimes changing every day.
We have been supported by the most exceptional volunteers – all unique in their own right – all motivated by a different reason but in collaboration all wanting to work with people and nature and nurture the charity. We are so grateful to them all. The team has pulled hard through the year and is taking some well- earned down time over the Christmas break – making use of a forced lockdown to replenish energy and spirits to be ready for what 2021 brings.
The message I keep telling myself is to simply take each day as it comes, gives thanks for life and the natural world that supports and surrounds us, friends and family. The positive of this crisis is it helps us pare down to what and who is most important in our lives, and for many of us has brought overwhelming thoughts of gratitude for what we do have. All the science shows how much gratitude helps our mental wellbeing and improves all relationships.
With that in mind – I wish you all a mindful, grateful and peaceful Christmas. I hope if you are affected by Covid that you are well supported and cared for and that others continue to take care of themselves and their loved ones.