Into the Woods - Arnside & Silverdale
Into the Woods is a project managed by Arnside & Silverdale National Landscape partnership, working with Stomping Ground CIC and Chadwick High School, a Pupil Referral Unit in Lancaster. Chadwick is the allocated education provider for local secondary children who find themselves unable to attend mainstream education after expulsion or a mental health crisis. Stomping Ground, experienced in creating therapeutic spaces, worked with groups with an emphasis on building confidence in the natural world and using nature as way to improve mental health
Young people from Chadwick School spend a full day with the Stomping Ground team in Arnside & Silverdale National Landscape.
The programme, funded by The Areti Trust since 2021, has reached vulnerable young people, aged 11-16, across seven groups – all receiving a minimum of 10 sessions, over up to a full year. Into the Woods has had a lasting impact with a marginalised group – many of whom had never been to Arnside & Silverdale National Landscape before this experience.
The Into the Woods project now provides a full year programme of activities within the Arnside & Silverdale National Landscape, building on pilot programmes in Autumn 2021 and Summer 2022. Full year programmes started in Autumn 2022 and have been maintained thanks to funding from The Areti Trust – a local charitable trust.
The programme aims to engage marginalised young people in the natural world in meaningful ways giving participants the confidence and motivation to spend time in nature during their lifetime and therefore increasing the value of the natural world to the next generation. Stomping Ground offers a therapeutic setting where participants are encouraged to find their own connections with the natural world in ways which support their mental health.
The programme delivers in-school sessions at the start and end of each 'block' to engage learners. 'Intake' sessions have included animal outreach elements like falconry, and the 'Integration and Feedback' sessions help students reflect on their experiences and direct future programmes.
Chadwick students saw their confidence increase
As part of this programme the participants have had additional enrichment experiences including sessions with Land Artist Richard Shilling, specialist Craft/Bushcraft Practitioners, trips to the beach and a local farm.Silverhelme Scout Camp was chosen as a base for its privacy, amenities and its woodland environment which reflects the beauty of Arnside & Silverdale National Landscape. The sessions at Silverhelme include preparing, lighting and cooking on a fire, putting up hammocks and tarpaulins, making swings, foraging for and identifying wild foods, hand tool use and mental health strategies/awareness activities.
The students at Chadwick all have experiences of exclusion from mainstream school due to poor mental health or behavioural regulation. This alone has a mental health impact. The vast majority are considered neurodiverse. The PRU's students also face issues such as: being in the care system - without parents or with parents who are unable to support them; the impacts of bullying or sexual exploitation; significant mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, etc; gender diversity in a cis-gender normative society; access to drugs and alcohol from a young age etc.
The project aims to have a positive impact on mental health by providing a space tailored to the individual needs of the participants. For the mental health unit, this often involves creating a low-pressure space using trauma-informed practice aimed at supporting participants to meet their own needs and feel more confident in their own bodies and in the natural world. For the behavioural unit, sessions are aimed at students who struggle to regulate their behaviour in school and often have a high need for movement. Stomping Ground endeavours to create a space where their need for regulation through movement can be met and also restore trust in adult relationships.
The young people created simple ephemeral art
Our foundations which created a successful programme:
- The delivery partner, Stomping Ground, have experience and training in mental health support, neurodiversity strategies and trauma-informed practice and could create the right environment for engagement.
- Not being a pre-planned skills-based programme meant it was possible to engage this marginalised group succesfully – being led by the participants.
- Regular, long-term contact was vital to build up meaningful connection to nature, trust in the Stomping Ground staff and cover some mental health strategies where appropriate.
- Having Intake and Integration sessions in the school environment was important for engagement.
- The programme had very high adult : participant ratios, allowing for tailored experiences and managed risk taking.
We adapted and strengthened the programme along the way:
- It was essential to provide dedicated transport, and for the minibus to remain at the site in case of incidents.
- It was important for the programme to be financially free and open to all, keeping barriers as low as possible. Many students only came because their peers did and then felt significant benefits.
- It was important for Stomping Ground to engage with school staff and highlight Stomping Ground’s approach to behavioural management and how, if this differed from in-school settings, to support the therapeutic practice.
- It was necessary to provide some items of clothing and equipment to enable students to access and enjoy the experience – this included suitable shoes and wellies, waterproofs, and umbrellas.
- Longer sessions had greater impact.
The young people put up hammocks and relaxed and enjoyed being in nature