Spotlight on our over-55s programme

Spotlight on our over-55s programme

For the last 11 weeks we have been busy running our much loved over-55s programme, ‘Silver Birches’, at the beautiful community garden Barnwood N2 (watch this video, courtesy of Leo Smith, to find out about its journey from wasteland to wilderness!) Over the weeks we have watched our very-early-spring, bloom and blossom and fruit, and summer has brought us a multitude of red currants, hanging in juicy bunches all around the garden. It has been a joy to see some familiar smiling faces returning to these weekly sessions.

Urban Forest Collective teamed up with Barnwood N2 and Leo Smith to design and run 12 weeks of nature-based arts, crafts and bushcraft activities that have included such wonderful things as fire lighting, willow weaving, outdoor cooking, spoon whittling, sawing and bird box making, raw forest cacao, foraging, painting and drawing, charcoal making, moth watching, Qi Gong, wood splitting, planting, balm making and kokedama – moss hanging baskets – all to the soundtrack of laughter and birdsong!

Nestled among the trees, and surrounded by wildlife, we have spent mornings and afternoons in good company, providing some much needed ‘me time’ for those who didn’t stop, even during lockdown; and some much needed connection with others and with the natural world, for those who have spent lockdown alone.

We hope in our work with over 55s that we can support people to feel more connected to themselves, to others, and to nature. We hope that regular weekly sessions help to reduce loneliness and isolation and build confidence and comfort in the outdoors. We have witnessed participants who have never made a fire, light one from a spark; we have seen participants who have never done woodwork, whittle a spoon. We have been part of fascinating conversations around an unusual moth sighting, shared our knowledge about plants and experienced the magic of discovering and learning in nature with others.

“Silver Birches has changed my outlook on life, made me reaffirm my values, and connect me with my neighbours. Thank you all so very much for making this possible.” – Celia

We have heard the sessions described as me-time, life changing, uplifting, and the thing I look forward to.

We know how important it is to spend time outdoors, and we know how important it is to spend time with others, and we hope our work with over-55s does just that.

Participants from Silver Birches are committed to continue meeting at Barnwood, once the program is over, to share skills of their own, make food, and help out with planting. We couldn’t be happier about this, it’s a celebration of the legacy we wanted to leave behind – building community. It also frees us to expand and take this popular programme on the road and to another lovely location – watch this space!

A Spring Reflection

Looking back and springing forward

It has been a wild rush of activities since Urban Forest Collective was formed in June of last year – so we thought it was about time to pause and reflect on all that we have achieved so far.

One of our very first projects as an organisation was a partnership with the amazing New Art Studio. The studio’s artists are asylum seekers and refugees, this group were facing very tough challenges of isolation through Covid-19 lockdowns. For a year previously, they’d been unable to meet in person at their art therapy studio, to enjoy the valuable energy of mutual support. UFC were able to offer to host this inspiring group of artists, delivering eight weeks of creative outdoor workshops at the Meadow Orchard. This enabled access to a beautiful natural environment for healing and therapeutic creative activities. Together we wove willow, block printed onto clothing, created flower garlands, made and painted bird boxes, and sketched the surrounding wildlife. “I will never forget these outdoor workshops. It was a very special place during lockdown”- participant.

Another valuable partnership that we have built over the last 7 months has been with Edible Landscapes London, who run a bountiful community forest garden in the heart of Finsbury Park. We have had the pleasure of running family workshops here, using practical activities to connect children and parents in creative and skillful play. Participants made cob bird boxes, getting messy with clay, willow and wood, whilst learning about bird habitats, natural materials and sustainability. It then got even messier, creating their very own wild foraged chocolate!

Having access to the natural world is vital to our wellbeing and health, and one of the most accessible forms exists within our urban parks. So we were absolutely delighted to be invited to take part in Finsbury Park’s ‘People Need Parks’ programming, funded by Haringey Council. We ran weekly public events to give a taste of ‘forest school for adults’ to North Londoners, many of whom had never even heard the term forest school before. We supported participants to create forest cacao; we went on mindful nature walks; we constructed planters out of recycled pallets; we created art from fallen leaves and natural dye; and we wove pollinator sculptures to celebrate our arthropod friends. People often don’t realise just how much is happening in their local green spaces, so we wanted to give just a glimpse of the plethora of ways they could get in touch with their environment!

Recently we have had the joy of discovering a couple of new green spaces ourselves, through our newly formed relationships with Lordship Recreation Ground and Barnwood N2. We took part in Art at the Rec in August 2021, running a couple of whittling and weaving taster sessions and, following this, we hosted a clear-up of the children’s area of Harmony Gardens at Lordship Rec. The community spirit was inspiring to see, as people volunteered their time to help renew and revitalise the overgrown space into a child-friendly play area and communal refuge. We look forward to returning to the Rec in the coming months with more community workshops – keep an eye on this blog to hear more! We will also be coming to Barnwood N2 for the first ever time in spring 2022 with a series of Silver Birch workshops for over 55s: head on over to the event page for more information and to sign up for a free place on the course. 

We are proud of how much we have grown already and how much fun we have had in the process. Now we are looking forward to our new projects in 2022 and beyond, and we hope to welcome you to one of our upcoming workshops to connect with yourself, with others and with nature.