Feeling like a Southerner

It has been a long time since I used the “Hexham” tag on a blog post. Not everything is in this blog, not the full story of the first visit delivering a two day Forest Schools taster session to my good friend Deni’s youth work trainees. Nor the sessions with the “Mams” from the East end estate who were dragged kicking and screaming and by the force of Deni’s personality into the woods where they found peace and laughter and left happy and smelling of woodsmoke.

There are lots of other stories there, stretching back six years and documenting my own journey working in the out doors with all sorts of different people and groups.

This weekend I got to go back to deliver two bushcraft sessions, a family session and one to adults only. I got to visit the new workshop, where woodcraft, weaving and carving takes place and Target woods, an atmospheric conifer plantation. Best of all I got to see and work with old friends and make new ones.

I could not help but feel proud of all that they have achieved and the peoples lives that have been touched, enriched and changed by their work and take some small pride in the fact that I was there with them for a while and can still help out on occasion.

People often tell me that I “have the best job ever” and how great it must be. And it is. But it can be hard, physically exhausting, mentally draining and emotionally challenging. We do our very best to present to the world an image of calm competence and professionalism while our feet paddle furiously under water to make it so.

It can sometimes feel very lonely even with the help and support of good people. We can feel like we are kicking “the proverbial” up hill. We know that this work is good and everyone would surely benefit from some aspect of it. We become like the Trotter trading company “This time next year Rodney we will be millionaires” so we carry on and sometimes we forget why.



then we remember.

Thank you to everyone who came along to the weekends sessions and were enthusiastic and joyful. Thank you to the Target Woods Action Team (yes they do go by an acronym) and thank you to my good friend Deni who is a wonderful host and an all round good egg.

Family Bushcraft Day at Dipton Woods

A clear mild winter’s day in the woods beckoned families to come and join in with bushcraft activities like fire making, shelter building, woodcraft and a story. It’s been a while since we had a full day of activity at Dipton Woods and it was good to be back.

Simon kept a roaring fire and kettles boiling all day, and we had fresh soup and pitta pizzas for lunch followed by fruit crumble – renamed ‘Forest Floor Crumble’ after a bit of an accident unwrapping it! Stainless Steel Stacey kept the domestics going for us.

Alan provided the usual brilliant activities including making robins from wood cookies and telling the story of how the Robin got it’s redbreast. As usual the group was fully engaged and really relished everything on offer.

It was good to have a visit from Dave Adams from Northern Bushcraft who dived in to help with carving pegs for shelters amongst other things. Dave and his students from Newcastle College have been helping to sort out the footpaths into the woods which will make a big difference to the access in the future.

A highlight of the day was Alan being taught the Woodland Gangnam Style dance. Say no more!

Once again some lovely outcomes from the day – one auntie telling me that her little nephew was entralled with the day and was calmer than he had ever been seen, as he suffers ADHD. Makes it all worthwhile!

Hexham Spooknight Lantern Making and Walk

Once again we were invited to provide a full day of willow lantern making at Hexham Community Centre for families attending Spooknight.

Over 40 families attended and we had a lot of great feedback.

The emerging theme of the day seemed to be ‘colour’ as the lanterns became more vibrant and textured as the day went on!

Several of the adults and children who attended last year helped new people to make their lanterns and it was a proper community effort! We were run off our feet all day – but the atmosphere was good and everyone happy!

The walk took place led by our Spooky Pirate Steven who sang Sea Shanties through the Sele Park and it was magical – we organised it a little later this year the darkness showed the lanterns off to their best effect. We were joined by the Stagefright Theatre Group who added their gothic spookiness to the parade.

Halfway round the park we met up with the Mayor of Hexham who stopped to say hello and allow people to take photographs with him.

Can’t wait for next Spooknight!! Thanks to all who helped!

Kielder Spoonday

Saturday saw the first Kielder Spoonday event. Inspired by Spoonfest run at Edale in August, the Kielder Spoonday aimed to give people a chance to dip into the world of spoon carving. Usually I work outdoors but for Kielder Spoonday was offered the chance to work in the castle art gallery. As the weather was quite… Kieldeish, I was quite glad to be under cover.

There were two workshops in the morning, repeated in the afternoon. Deni Riach ran a spatula making workshop, eschewing pre prepared but very hard beech blanks and opting to split down birch. In the end the participants benefitted from learning how to split logs to prepare boards then use axe and shave horse to rough out. Finishing with craft knives, I saw some very smooth spatulas being proudly displayed, from log to kitchen in only two hours!

Despite preparing birch spoon blanks for the participants to allow them to progress their carving, I was very surprised at the progress made in only two hours , this minus all my blathering time.

Outside (in quite a lot of rain!) there was a fire circle with seating, a “try out” area for whittling and a children’s entertainer, occupying the offspring of avid carvers by teaching them circus skills among other things.

There were some lovely comments from participants:

” I thought I would enjoy it but not as much as I did”

“An inspirational workshop”

Roll on next year I say.

Allenheads Play Day with Natural Ability

We were invited by Natural Ability(a charity which works with children and young people with learning needs) to run an outdoor play day for families in Allenheads which is a rural community in the North Pennines.
We expected to get about 6-10 young people, their friends and families/carers along but on the day more than doubled that! We had the bell tent up as a wet weather option but in the end it acted as a shade from the sun as it was a beautiful sunny day.
The young people made godseyes, hapa zome and played games throughout the day with a campfire lunch they made themselves, which was thrilling for many of them. After lunch they tried their hand at circus skills and had an impromptu singalong round the fire. It was a happy day with new skills learnt, space to play freely and a chance to make new friends.

Day Workshop National Citizenship Scheme @ Durham

The workshop ran as part of the residential for young people aged 15 – 18yrs from Hexham, Sunderland and Gateshead who are involved with the National Citizenship Scheme. We were invited along to support the young people with session ideas for them to take forward to work with younger children as part of their volunteering.

The afternoon included setting up the site, craft activities, campfire cooking and fire safety, presentations on their voluntary project proposals and packing up the site. The session was very relaxed and allowed a lot of time for discussion and conversation. Some of the young people had been away with us before in Newcastleton a couple of years before and it was great to see their progression to young adults who want to pass forward their skills and knowledge to other young people.

A brilliant day, lucky weather, happy vibe and good skills. 🙂

NCFE Woodland Crafts End of Course Exhibition July 2012

The course ended after 27 weeks with a flourish…. an exhibition in Falstone Village Hall during the day and a party for the families in the evening. It has been a really great experience where we have all learned from one another and formed a close bond as a group. Thanks to the lovely lasses!!

Comments from our visitors included:

‘Really impressive work..would be happy to buy many items.’

‘Congratulations. Beautiful work. The wood has come to life.’

‘WOW! Fantastic work everyone, great to see what a great success it has been and why everyone is talking wood, wood, wood!!’

‘True talent and massive impact to future possibilities. Well done all of you.’

So onwards and upwards to Level 2 in Sept!

Cockshot Dene Woodland Art Project – Prudhoe

OWL/Birch Forest Schools were commissioned by the Prudhoe Volunteer Centre to work alongside the conceptual poet and artist Ira Lightman to engage local people in developing the concept for the new permanent, high quality art installation interacting with the woodland setting at Cockshot Dene, West Wylam, Prudhoe.
It was agreed that we would facilitate a number of day long workshops in the woods which would include the creation of temporary natural artworks and allow the involvement of local people in identifying the important themes to inform the construction of a permanent piece and give a sense of local ownership throughout the process.
The day workshops consisted of team building exercises including building seats and carving mallets, discussions around the campfire, a shared meal, walks through the area with mapping and the creation of temporary land art. Participants included young people aged 18-21, families with young children and older people who volunteer at the Dene.

Falstone NCFE Creative Crafts Level 1 Weeks 17-19

The last month has been a busy one for the group at Falstone. Most of the shavehorses are now finished and in use. We have begun experimenting on projects with gypsy flowers and kuksas(swedish drinking cups). This has included collecting hazel from nearby woods and using fallen birch from Dipton Mill. The skill level of the group is well beyond Level 1 and the portfolios are looking fantastic – they received a good report from both Ofsted and the External Examiner.
Plans are underway for an end of course exhibition in July at the library in Haltwhistle and a presentation evening with practical demonstrations at Falstone. The women have raised funding for tools which will help them to set up a self organised craft group which will run on after the course ends. They are also becoming involved in a Skills Exchange which is being set up in the North Pennines.
Three of the women are attending the Coppice Association North West ‘Weekend in the Woods’ on 12/13th May with me… we are really looking forward to gaining new skills to pass on.

St Georges Day Festival – Hexham

We were pleased to be asked to contribute to the children’s activities at the annual St Georges Day Celebration in Hexham. This year we offered making dragon babies, dragon eyes and dragon eggs with nests. It was a busy and fun day seeing lots of familiar faces as well as a lot of new families. As usual it was a great opportunity to share the idea of Forest Schools and promote OWL and Birch Forest Schools.
The bell tent was chocka block most of the day as the weather was changeable and bit cold, and it was a comfy retreat with fun activities.
As usual the fishing barrel and hoop-la unicorn were well used. Simple and effective.
The festival itself was vastly improved on last year having a lot of local craftspeople in attendance which made it much more interactive. One of the participants came over to us to tell us ‘i think you are the main attraction’ as we had so many children working away making items.
At one point we had several children peeling bark off some fresh willow sticks with potato peelers…. an activity they initiated themselves but which quickly took off! All good practice for future knife work. Some of the parents commented that they spent a fortune on games and toys when a stick would do!!