We often hear talk of how simply spending time in nature can improve our wellbeing and mental health. But, like anything else, until you actually experience it for yourself, it just falls into the category of “things people say”.
On a personal level, I have definitely felt the power of nature to heal and to refresh - especially being around trees.
So, the project which we delivered in the last week of June was one that we were all very much looking forward to, as it combined providing access for young people to the creative arts with giving them an exceptional opportunity to spend time in an incredible natural setting : Wytham Woods.
Wytham Woods is the home of ecology, an outdoor laboratory owned by The University of Oxford doing crucial research into how we interact with the natural world. On top of that, it is one of the most beautiful areas of woodland in the country.
And it was our home for a week as we welcomed four groups of primary school children (and their teachers) to experience our Lost Words in the Woods Creative Arts Day.
There was a piece of theatre, performed outside, which took the form of a trail around one section of the woods. The audience met various characters on the trail, experienced the beautiful poetry of Robert Macfarlane and learnt a little about the woods themselves.
Then, pupils took part in two workshops : a poetry session and an art workshop. In these sessions, children were able to respond to nature using the creative arts and it was terrific to see what they came up with. Some of the poems they wrote can be read on the website : https://www.fabulaarts.co.uk/about-4
Our aims were to allow these children first to experience the natural world and then to respond to it, using the creative arts - and to find out a little about Wytham Woods, in the process. Judging by the terrific feedback we received, we managed to effect this. According to one pupil, it was the “best trip ever” and one teacher remarked that it was “an example of teaching and learning at its very best.”
And all the feedback focused on how invigorated and energised both pupils and staff felt at the end of their day in the woods. Everyone loved being out in nature - and so did we!
So, perhaps there is something to it. If we spend more time in nature, we understand it more and we find ways of engaging with it positively.
And we feel better!
Enormous thanks are due to all those who contributed to this project - Laugh Out Loud Theatre, who performed the piece of theatre, Sophia Kyprianou (The Curator Educator) and Wendy Price, who delivered art workshops, James Gillam, who ran the poetry workshop, Lucy Kilbey and Nigel Fisher at Wytham Woods, Dr Alice Little the woods Writer in Residence, who judged the poetry competition, our funders The University of Oxford, Oxford City Council and The Arts Society Oxford and, of course, Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris for writing The Lost Words and The Lost Spells, which were our inspiration.