Elders Testaments

September 2021 to April 2022 (Elders Weaving in the Woods – Samhain to Equinox)

Here are what the some of the Elders and volunteers said about our year long project:

“Delightful to be outside”,

“This is my weekly landmark”

“Life is more bearable now”

“Opportunity to be a child again”

I have come to life

I have to say that the Forest School has been the most wonderful thing that has happened to me for a very long time.  All the things that I thought I had lost forever in my youth, the open air, nature, birds, woods, crafts – spinning, weaving, dying wool with plants, I have now found again, being brought to me by the Forest School.  I can’t thank you enough.  Also thanks to Naomi.  My loves in life apart from the open air have been Chi Kung and Tai Chi and some yoga and schiatsu. In fact, I have come to life since joining Naomi’s class and coming to the Forest School and it is wonderful meeting like minded people and realising that being an Elder, everyone either shoulders some of life’s problems or are helping themselves naturally to overcome illnesses they have succumbed to, even those of a much younger age.

The longest time in the week I am outside

Coming to the woods in the beginning I was apprehensive of what I would be able to do. But I was made very welcome and never pushed to over achieve, everything at your own pace.
The more we are together the happier we will be!

To my shame I have to say being at the woods is the longest time in the week that I am outside in the fresh air, sometimes that was down to the weather but mostly it was there was no incentive to go outside but the woods meet is regular and I know I will meet friends who will inspire me to make more of my time! It is achieving for me what it was designed for which was to get my up and go back! I am much better in my self now all these months on because of the woods and the Pear Tree centre! Much of my problem was the mental side of things and that has improved greatly!

Outcomes

Utility and usefulness
The joyful expression of the utility of people mostly retired from working life. The most poignant and effective is Naomi who at the age of 92, re-started to teach Chi Gong to us Week 4 in the woods, and has attended every session for the year, giving practical advice and support to people throughout this time.
From the popularity of the woodland Chi Gong, she is now teaching at the Pear Tree. She started one day a week (Monday) and now does 2 days, Friday as well because Monday is full.

Finding roles – like the journal girls, tea serving and clearing away, chair stacking, cushion stacking – community has been built and taking responsibility for space.

Woodland work skills
They’ve become involved in the woodland cycle and maintenance of woodland, involved in the woodland cycle, for example coppicing, stacking, whittling, using the draw knife. Bertie sawing the wood up for the fire. Finally – just after the coppice season, this culminated in us making the Elders Bender.

Creative Skill sharing
Weaving, dying, small loom making. Now they are all making square for the Elders Friendship blanket it to put on a show independently, at Halesworth Cut.

We have all contributed to 2 full tapestries, one is in pride of place at the Pear Tree, and one yet to be decided, but will go on tour through our town to publicise our community gathering.

Bringing in family heirlooms to share the story of them – for them to be seen, loved and heard about

Personal lives story telling – opportunities to bring memories of our lives to our community. Practising listening and retelling

Learning of trees – skills of working with wood – bender building

Community poetry writing – with Dean building the poem The Cathedral

Local artists coming to collaborate

Nature connection
Seasonal connecting (Samhain, Solstice, Equinox), political connecting, Poppy Day, Ukraine invasion. Giving the opportunity to speak of things which make us anxious, share concerns and worries and ask for support.

Foraging – learning about what we could harvest for teas. Then elders bringing in their own foraged finds to the next sessions.

Emersion into elements – fire, earth, air, water

Partnership with local organisations
Most notably The Pear Tree. Also Halesworth Volunteer Centre, Compassionate Communities, Engaged Communities, Dementia community, End of Life care and death Doola.

General well-being
Being outside, some say for the longest period of their week, is rejuvenating, relaxing and calming, as well as healthy.

The Elders say they leave all their troubles behind, and relax

Nutritional well being – enjoying our home made soups. Out of this has come sharing soup recipes.
Chi GOng – Tai chi – movement – healing of bodies – ailments of knees, arms, backs.

Body science – sharing about difficulties and using tai chi to heal and move

Community Building after COVID isolation
Who was once grumpy began to smile. The longest conversations. In our circle we invited any anxiety to be shared and halved.

Support for carers – a few Elders come with their partner who has some difficulty. We give the carer a break, and monitor and tend the partner.

Hardy to elements, resilience building.

Connection to childhood memories
Life story sharing and play and dancing eg Conkers, jacks, dancing.

Community building – joining linking with each other
Planning future activities, like all of us going to the Strumpshaw tree festival.
Physical benefits of Chi Gong under the hornbeams.
Holding the space, particularly during a vulnerable time of COVID, being safe outside
Every one having their moment to be heard in the circle – which may have been a new experience for them

Extra’s and Visitors
Giving local artists a chance to share – and be financially rewarded for – their skills – many dormant during COVID. Making connections with local people and organisations. Like Paul Trees, Dean the Poet, Sue the Story teller, Meg the Musician.

Diversity mix
connecting with and communicating with for example a deaf person, and people with dementia,

Increasingly mindfulness
For example Leslie saying how she was now mindful of how she used water at home.
Recipe exchange!

Intergenerational
We mixed tribes for the first 8 weeks with children and families from Kinda Forest School – in fact one day we had 3 generations with us. However, the Elders wanted to have the time to themselves, so we developed Community Forest School for this intergenerational mix.
However, we introduced letter writing to the other tribes.
And one of our group now regularly attends a KFS tribe on Tuesday, teaching them breadmaking
Letter writing between tribes – connection of elders and tribes
Martin – Tuesday – teaching baking in dutch oven!

Migration in to Kinda Forest School

Transformative.
Bertie and Pippa NOT moving back to London!!! They found community and support here.
“People’s stories move me to tears”
Singing and songs and poetry shares

Childhood memory
Children and adults – intergenterational opportunities. Games – remembering childhood and sharing – using memories. Drawing, Dancing

COVID
We have spoken about the changes to government guidelines and supported the group to find out where to get access to testing kits…
Listening to concerns and personally stories.
Sharing thoughts and ways of coping.
Signposting to other organisations.

Nurturing Volunteers: from Leslie The power of kindness, the circle, and sharing is truly, uplifting, healing and inspiring. Thank you, as always, for making this wonderful space in the woods happen.

Virginia R: The more we are together the happier we will be! To my shame I have to say being at the woods is the longest time in the week that I am outside in the fresh air, sometimes that was down to the weather but mostly it was there was no incentive to go outside but the woods meet is regular and I know I will meet friends who will inspire me to make more of my time! It is achieving for me what it was designed for which was to get my up and go back! I am much better in my self now all these months on because of the woods and the Pear Tree centre! Much of my problem was the mental side of things and that has improved greatly!

Testament from a volunteer

feels like I have found a natural home in many ways. I love the wisdom of the elders, the variety of people who attendee from different backgrounds and places and clearly seeing the benefit it gives in terms of connections, activity and playfulness. Connecting has been a very important part of it for me, on a very practical level, given me greater meaning in my own life and confidence in sharing some of my skills, being valued as part of the team and by the elders themselves. I’m benefitting from spending time in the woods, being active with the Qi Gong and learning new skills like coppicing and bender formation. I’ve completed my Level 2 Forest school training workbook whilst being part of this group. I’m looking into courses to be able to lead basic qi gong in my local area and am considering level 3 Forest School training. Personally, it’s been transformative and nourishing and I have met the most amazing people amongst the facilitators and volunteers.

Lesley – our volunteers says

I love being in the woods.

 It’s a very elemental experience for me, making me feel connected to the planet and grounded, and through it I feel more at peace with myself.

Qi Gong also helps to enhance these feelings within me.

Listening to others’ life experiences helps to put my own into perspective and gives me the strength to continue with my perceived ‘struggles’.

This has been a very powerful realisation that although life is sometimes difficult it can also be peppered with joy, laughter and sharing which is very healing.

I love hearing about individual’s lives, everyone’s creativity seems boundless!

This makes me realise that anything is still possible.

OK, i’m not going to be a professional artist or gardener now BUT, I can paint and I can garden and genuinely enjoy the wonderful developing process of these activities.

Being part of the Elders Tribe has given me confidence to be myself (whatever that is, I am still discovering) and reach out to others in our facilitators and volunteer group and also to the wider community.

I am definitely happier for being part of the Elders community, it is a safe, kind space where I am slowly developing a personal resilience to life events ( still ongoing!) through the experience of being part of the group and I am experiencing a deeper richness of life day to day.

Thank you for all the Kinda love and acceptance.

d

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Supported and sponsored by:

COVID-19 Engaged Communities Fund (Suffolk CC)