As I write, the office is alive with staff and outdoor therapists all streaming back in from their various programmes in the woods and fields surrounding our office. Those stuck indoors welcome the smell of woodsmoke that follows them around, as if hinting of the outdoors and the experiences they’ve had that day. The site is beautiful and with the weather bursting with warmth and sunlight this week, we’ve seen a surge in an abundance of nature with the scent of blossoms, birdsong serenading our every mood, yellow daffodils swaying, wood anemones and celandines bursting forth, and early butterflies dancing in the meadows.
Our badgers on site have proliferated and dens and satellite dens are appearing in new spots much to everyone’s delight. Our night cameras have connected us to our nocturnal neighbours, and we are starting to recognise who is who, along with our local fox, and deer that trip in and out of sight. Do check out our Badger Cam series that Josh and Terri have created with weekly episodes appearing on our YouTube, Facebook and Twitter channels and become part of our clan – human and non-human included!
With this burst of life in nature we also see our young clients finding themselves in bud. Groups of children coming for one to one therapy or others who are in our Brave Futures groups have had peaceful and calm days outside – a far cry from the acting out and behaviours that we had to deal with in the first days. Unfortunately, I often remain the last resort of sorting out problem behaviour and my rock collection in my office becomes a well-respected tool for discussion and calming angry children or those who are emotionally activated and feel unsafe.
There is something about rocks that seems to connect and ground people, creating a connection to the wonder of evolution, life, energy, and the forces of the planet that could twist and turn rock into new structures or forms. The rocks provide geography lessons about where they came from, and geology lessons on what they are. Mostly what matters for these young people, is how holding these rocks makes them feel. They can return to the group in a better state of mind or at least when collected by family or their carers we can all have a conversation about how today was challenging and what next week can offer as another beginning.
Covid has created an overwhelming number of adults and children in need of therapy, re-socialisation, reductions in anxiety and trust in the world around. They have become fearful, shutdown and unsure of how to re-emerge into the world. It reminds me of Peter Matthiessen’s beautiful quote in his book ‘ The Snow Leopard’, along the lines of emerging from a chrysalis gently and slowly, to avoid a sudden tearing of the wing, and how our re-emergence needs the pace to avoid a sudden tearing of our spirit. Nature doesn’t rush things and neither should we. We need to test the rocks we will put our weight on like we would do crossing a wild river or stream. Without this gradual re-emergence we may fall in or fall out.
Through last year and this year so far, we have much good fortune in being supported to deliver a wide range of therapy and behaviour change programmes – more than ever before in my memory – and I am coming up for service to the Foundation of almost 23 years now.
In addition to the therapy, we have moved closer to our vision of balancing our work between people and nature. We have been working hard on climate change programme development for schools, maintaining our online programme WildTime, and now have two lots of funding to build up young people to take the lead in environmental and climate change programmes. One is from The Ernest cook Foundation called Green Influencers, and the other is from the #Iwill Fund to work on our allotments and develop knowledge and skills in permaculture and the link between local food and sustainability as another tool of finding ways to reduce our carbon footprint.
Personally, I have been very excited to continue to serve as a commissioner for the Essex County Climate Action Commission. I learn so much from academic and other professional partners who are leaders in their fields of biodiversity, farming, sustainability, sustainable energy to just hint at some of the expertise I am surrounded by. We are challenged and work hard to produce tangible and meaningful recommendations to help Essex develop a carbon neutral future by 2050…and to nudge and encourage our myriad of communities to take the journey with us.
The challenge is huge, and it also demands much introspection on my own habits and behaviours – as we were reminded by a fellow commissioner Professor Jules Pretty of the University of Essex – ‘How can we ask others to change things if we are not doing it ourselves?’ He was right…and it also shows that some things are not too easy to do and achieve.
However, with a good mindset and positive commitment, changes can take place. On my home front we are eating a more plant based diet but still call ourselves flexitarian, buying local as much as possible, recycling, leaving our garden un-mowed to encourage wildlife, keeping our pond healthy, keeping an eye on our electricity use and only using our dishwasher or washing machine when we have a full load are some of our efforts. These are just some steps – but I also fail with my car, and my wishes to travel back home to South Africa and the States to see loved ones from time to time and having put a new wood burner in the house in December which is now frowned upon in terms of air pollution.
I love this planet and each day am grateful for the beauty and opportunity that the natural world offers us when we care to look out the window or take a walk in the fresh air. It needs care and attention and hard work to keep it safe. The same goes for our children and the vulnerable people who cross our threshold. They are often people who others cannot face, or want to deal with, or who frighten us and make us feel unsafe. With time, compassion, and commitment, they too also unfurl their wings in the sunlight of kindness and positive human connection. They change and grow towards the light, and through our team’s facilitation, role modelling and examples of how to treat each other and the earth, we become defenders of both humanity and the natural world together. Just check in to see our Persil film – apart from the smaller children, the other nature ambassadors, in this film, first found us as they were not coping well… and now look at what they can achieve.
I hope this message fills you with the inspiration we feel every day. Thank you for your support of the Foundation and we look forward to hearing from you and hearing what your thoughts and actions are. You can find us through our social media sites, write to me, or even pop by for a walk.