An Award Winning Woodland Project for Children and Young People with Learning Disabilities and their Families

A Woodland Celebration!

Circle of Life Rediscovery (CLR) and Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust’s – Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services Learning Disability / Family Intensive Support Service (CAMHSLD/FISS) held a Celebration Day on 31st March to mark the huge success of their three year project.

“We have had a great three years working together supporting families, siblings, parents and grandparents to get outdoors, find peer support, discover new skills, have fun and relax.” Marina Robb, Founder of Circle of Life Rediscovery.

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The Woodlands Project was awarded Silver at the 2015 Sussex Partnership Positive Practice Awards and Highly Commended in the national Innovation in Child, Adolescent and Young People’s Mental Health Award presented by the Positive Practice Collaborative.

 

The Issues

Children and young people with learning disabilities often have fewer opportunities in life and their families find it harder to spend time together as a family, building the kind of memories we all expect to find in our photo albums. Furthermore, families attending our project rarely get out and some have withdrawn into their homes completely. The reasons can be shocking; being asked to get off a bus because their autistic child is anxious and making noises to communicate their distress, or other adults asking parents to remove their child from the play area because they don’t understand the non-verbal communication being used. These daily experiences of prejudice, judgement and sometimes, abuse, make day to day life even more challenging.

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These are the issues CLR and CAMHSLD/FISS decided to tackle in a programme which was specially designed, in partnership with families. The project enables them to enjoy a whole day together, to relax and have fun in each other’s company and to explore their capabilities, talents and strengths both as individuals and as a family unit. Due to the complex needs of the young people attending the activities, a very high level of support is put in place with each family being supported by one staff member from CLR and one from CAMHSLD/FISS.

 

So far 150 people have attended and benefited from this project over the past three years. Learning has happened on all sides. Families have gained woodland skills and can now build and cook on a campfire, some have learnt safe saw and drill use. Families have learnt that they can access the outdoors and that when they do, they feel much calmer and more resilient. Parents and siblings have met other people who share their experiences and found that sharing their stories is deeply supportive.

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We know that there is very little provision for families to stay together as a whole unit when there is a child with a learning disability. Most of the support offered consists of respite which splits the family up and they have told us how limiting this is. We have also learnt that families that are already coping with high levels of distress are subject to daily experiences of rejection and threat in their own communities. And finally, we have seen first-hand, the healing power of getting together with peers in woodland. As one parent said, “the trees are drinking my stresses.”

 

The Project

The Woodland Project aims to make a relaxing, whole family day a reality; stretching young people to learn new skills and discover new talents and supporting parents so they could find peace, and create fun memories of their time together. Typically a day begins with songs around a main fire before tuition in building a cooking fire is given. After lunch, woodland crafts are the order of the day with young people learning how to safely use a saw or drill. Throughout, access to hammocks and swings provides quieter, reflective spaces if children feel over stimulated by the new sensations available to them.

The project seeks to challenge some of the assumptions that limit the experience of young people with learning disabilities. In addition the goal is to equip adults with the necessary skills and key safety knowledge to give them the confidence to make choices to go outdoors independently of the project.

See our wonderful film about our Woodland Project:

Photos from our Woodland Days can be seen here.

Photos from our Celebration Day can be seen here.

Feedback from a parent

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“We had a brilliant day and felt very relaxed. The children loved the woods and the quiet life and thoroughly enjoyed on how to make camp fires and cook on a camp fire. This environment is really perfect and safe for children, who love the outdoors and learning new things. The staff were brilliant and made us feel very welcome and very supportive. Would love to come back again as the day was great and the kids were kept busy from beginning to end.”

 

 

Quote from Clinical Psychologist

“Spending time in a new environment, away from usual routines, provided a space for the family to interact with each other in a different way. As parents have support from staff at the woodland they are able to relax and engage with their children in a way that is not always possible in everyday life. Parents were also able to connect with other parents. This is not usually easy for parents or carers of a child with a learning disability as transport is often arranged to take the child to school, so they do not have the opportunity to meet and talk to other parents.”

“As a clinician the day provided a unique opportunity to get to know the family in a way that is not possible in the course of normal clinical work. It facilitated relationship building with the family as well as providing an opportunity to observe family dynamics in a completely natural, unobtrusive way.”

Feedback from parents:

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“I can’t express enough how much relaxing, healing and peace there has been for me today.”

 

 

20150613_105416 “This is not the kind of place we would normally come to so it has been a nice change. It makes me think we will come back. You forget it doesn’t have to be structured such as a playground. It has been good that we have been outdoors rather than in a play centre or community hall.”


WHY NATURE MATTERS

Nature has an extraordinary way of bringing out the best in people.

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Circle of Life Rediscovery bases all its work around nature. It now has information gathered from over 15 years of why nature matters. The belief that change comes with the right environment to be able to try new things is at the heart of this nature work.

It’s a simple thing to go out into nature, and yet so many people don’t think of it or because they don’t do it often are afraid of it. We use it to support our work and in return we feel nature has exceptional ways of teaching so much that can be used in everyday life.

Find out more about our Funded work here.

SUPPORT OUR PROJECT

If you would like to make a donation to support the future of our Woodland Days, please click here or contact us at info@circleofliferediscovery.com. Any funds received will help to provide much needed disabled toilets, containers for tools and temporary structures for shelters.

Leaky Buckets GIG on 29th and 30th April

The Leaky Buckets are back at Iford Village Hall on 29th and 30th April with a new set of songs to get you on your feet! The evening includes a cash bar, barbeque and a collection to support our Funded Projects. Please come along – we hope to see you there! Entry is FREE but must be pre-booked. Please see details here.

Circle of Life Rediscovery would like to thank to NHS England for supporting us over the last 3 months; to SPARK for their Life More Ordinary Grant support and to all the families, staff and people who helped shape this project.

About Circle of Life Rediscovery
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Circle of Life Rediscovery is a Community Interest Company based in Ringmer, East Sussex that provides funded and bespoke learning with nature experiences and training for young people, adults, families, schools and organisations.

Our team of outdoor Learning specialists are passionate about nature and our aim is to share our knowledge and expertise with the next generation while helping to boost self-esteem, confidence, communication skills as well as physical development.

About Sussex Partnership

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Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust provides NHS mental health, specialist learning disability and substance misuse services across and beyond Sussex.