It’s so often the drive and passion of individuals that impacts across a wider community. As Ukrainian families began to arrive and find refuge in the Hope Valley area Ruth Dixon wanted to use her Forest School and Wilderness Therapy skills to set up a regular opportunity in a beautiful woodland space for them and their host families to enjoy therapeutic and sociable time in nature. A chance to gather together around the campfire to connect with others, cook and eat, chat, be creative and meet to offer support to each other.
“I really wanted to offer families throughout the Hope Valley a regular free 'Woodland Gathering' afternoon on the 1st Saturday of every month, hopefully with the view to continuing the project into 2023 and for as long as there is a need.
Acting as host and leading each event but supported by volunteers from the local community, the activities are designed for all ages and abilities and include setting up camp, learning basic bush craft skills, campfire cooking, nature craft projects and an opportunity to explore some wilderness therapeutic approaches together.
With support and permission to use a woodland site from PDNPA rangers, I have also linked in with people who are co-ordinating/matching Ukrainian families with their hosts in this area.“
Ruth looked to give her time and services for free but needed funding for extra resources and provision for transport to and from the woodland site if needed, so she approached the Alpkit Foundation for support. With an award of £500, along with her own time and that of volunteers, she has been able to provide regular opportunities for those new to the area feel welcomed and safe, benefiting whole families to create and nurture positive and supportive links within the community, connecting with nature and an opportunity to learn from each others' culture.
Thank you so much. It was amazing day full of positive emotions. You're making people happy and relaxed, we really appreciate it and looking forward to seeing all of you again.
As we headed towards the end of 2022, Ruth got in touch to let us know how things have been going. It was wonderful to hear that the funds have really helped to cover all resources to support each event, resulting in really positive feedback from the individuals and families, all with the common theme of how welcome, safe and relaxed everyone has felt.
“By reaching out to families and individuals living, not only in the Hope Valley but in Sheffield, I have been able to make this beautiful woodland location accessible for people who might not necessarily visit the Peak District National Park. Over the months we have created a really special and supportive community, with families returning each time and many more new participants attending every month. The food and activities provided at each gathering play a crucial role in the sessions, bringing people together. This has allowed The Woodland Gathering project to become a real community success, connecting families from the Hope Valley area to a wider network of Ukrainian and British host families in Sheffield, supported by a really amazing team of volunteers from the local community. “
One particular group has attended every single session and commented on how important the gatherings have been for themselves and their children, being one of the few outings that they all come together as a household for a shared experience. Ruth is in no doubt that the Woodland Gatherings have played an important part in supporting this group during what must be a really challenging time for all. Successfully creating a regular opportunity for participants to not only connect with each other but really benefit from time spent connecting with nature.
I have been so grateful to have been given the opportunity to volunteer with Ruth and the Ukrainian Woodland Gathering. At a time in my life when I was lacking in confidence and purpose, it has been just amazing to feel so included, to learn new skills, to make new friendships and to be part of something that has been completely magical and transforming at times!
“All individuals (Ukrainian and British hosts) have quickly made positive connections with others and this has resulted in a really supportive community growing over the months. There have been plenty of moments when participants have shared their own experiences and skills, supporting and encouraging each other. Looking back at the photos taken during these events, alongside the conversations that I've had with participants, feedback and observations, I can clearly see what a positive impact that attending the Woodland Gatherings have had on individuals, families, children and adults.
My volunteers have also said how much they have gained from taking part in the project and I could not do it without them! They have skilfully and generously welcomed each and every participant, getting to know them over the months, practically supporting everyone's basic needs and keeping everyone safe and engaged in the events, children and adults!”
Now that she has established this special Woodland Gathering community, Ruth is keen to encourage participants to continue to make these deep connections and offer support to each other, as well as start to include some more Wilderness Therapeutic approaches to help support mental health and well being.