£100,000 lottery grant for groundbreaking women's woodland project

July 30 2019
£100,000 lottery grant for groundbreaking women's woodland project

A WOODLAND project which supports women in recovery from alcohol and drug abuse has been awarded £100,000 by the national lottery.

Run exclusively by women for women, the Hawthorn Project at Tortworth Forest Centre is the first of its kind in the country offering a safe space and support in the woods. Participants learn woodland skills like outdoor cooking, using tools, and plant, wildlife and birdsong identification – but there is also time for a cuppa and a chat around the fire.

The initiative originally ran as a pilot for 18 months and the benefits were found to be transformative. It was set up by Bec Cork, who manages 18 acres of woodlands at Tortworth, and her friend Jackie Roby from the company Go Wild Education. Women reported improvements in their physical health, their self-esteem, and their relationships. Now women in recovery are referred by Bristol Drugs Project and Developing Health and Independence Bristol and South Glos.

Bec said: “The women who come to The Hawthorn Project are there to learn about bushcraft and lighting fires, about trees and nature. We are not there to dwell on addiction or trauma but to focus on the future, healthy life choices, rekindling interests and rediscovering who they are and what they enjoy.”

One woman recovering from alcohol addiction, who asked to be known as Roz, had not left her house for weeks when she first attended.

She said: “I woke up that morning looking forward to something. It was exciting to get ready to go somewhere.

I’m always worrying, but when I come to the woods, I switch off my phone. I feel free.”

Bec said: “One of the things Jackie and I feel very strongly about is that woodlands are portrayed on films as scary places, where women will be hacked to death by a scary man with an axe. So I really want to show that woods are for women, they are nurturing spaces and we’re allowed to do bushcraft, and it’s not about whose got the biggest knife. The forestry sector is very negatively gendered.”

Bec and Jackie find that women start to show an interest in their surroundings, asking about books on wildlife, or whether they can get a qualification in forest skills.

Bec said: “There’s one lady who wants to learn forestry – I’m trying to find her a placement – there’s another lady who, through coming to the project regularly, has completely stopped drinking and has been able to reconnect with her family.”

The funding from the National Lottery Community Fund will ensure the project runs for another four years, paying for three members of staff, a minibus, and training.

The Hawthorn Project is only a small part of what goes on at Tortworth Arboretum. The Arboretum was left unmanaged for many years, and restoring the woodlands is a huge project under Bec’s management.

A small team of volunteers has recently completed a one year project mapping all 610 trees, which was funded with £10,000 from the National Lottery Heritage fund. Now the public will be asked via the Tortworth Forest Centre website to help choose which new trees should be planted.

There are monthly volunteer days which are open to everyone, and various organisations use the woods regularly, including the Scouts, Adventures in Nature, who offer family camps, Go Wild Education who run forest school, and Honeywoods. Honeywoods is Bec’s own company offering women’s retreats where women pay what they can afford.

On October 12 there will be a community tree planting day.

There is more information online at the Honeywoods and Torworth Arboretum websites.