Wild Women

Go Wild Forest School Wild Women Hawthorn Project

I’ve suspected for a while that if you put a bunch of women into a woodland together then amazing things will happen. I suppose that over the years of running about in the woods with people of all ages, I’ve realised that when women manage to get into the wild there a few things that are quite common: lack of confidence, thinking that outdoors is macho, thinking they won’t be able to ‘do’ it, the belief that outdoor skills are hard.

Thing is, it’s not. There’s actually nothing macho or difficult about firelighting. Although, if you believe the internet or the telly, it’s really complicated and you need to be as rough as guts to achieve anything. Then again, if you believe the internet or the telly…

Occasionally I’ll check out a survival course online or dip into a bushcraft forum and it’s all about the kit and the khaki and the ‘challenge‘ and even I feel intimidated. And I know what I’m doing. So how would a woman who knew nothing about that kind of thing feel? My guess is, she’d run a mile.

So finally, last September, I got the chance to find out what happens when a group of women gather in the woodlands together when I ran the Rewild Retreat weekend. No, we didn’t get naked, no we didn’t giggle and talk about boys and no, and you can’t watch (a common request). What happened, right from the start, was that an incredibly supportive and relaxed environment materialised. The age range was twenty-four to sixty-six and everyone managed to light a fire. Easily. And then some.

The women learnt about firewood and different firelighting techniques, and about knifework and tool safety and all the way through they supported and encouraged each other and everyone flourished. I watched as confidence soared, skills were mastered and friendships were formed. The words ‘empowered’ ‘confident’ and ‘self-assured’ floated about over cups of tea by the campfire. It wasn’t about what people were wearing, how they looked or what they had done before. It was about women doing things for themselves, sharing in experiences and stepping off of the treadmill of life.

It was lovely but as I stared at the prosecco, the Waitrose olives and the M&S biscuits, a massive part of me wanted to know if it would be the same if we gathered together a group of women who would never get the chance to do such a thing. What would happen? Would it be any different?

Nine months later and we are 2 weeks into a 6 week pilot project with a group of women who are at various stages in their journey to recovery from drug and alcohol misuse. Their lives are messy, there is often violence or historical abuse and they have never been offered the opportunity to do something like this. There is simply nothing along these lines for women, by women.

I have an inkling into what life is like for these women but in reality I have no idea. I’m not interested in whatever label they have been given. I don’t like labels, they encourage preconceptions, whether helpful or not, and quite often what is really underneath the label is a human being who is a little bit lost. It could so easily be you or I. Luckily, there are no labels in the woods, which is what makes it such a restorative place to spend time. Without labels we can’t prejudice, even inadvertently.

In the two sessions that we have spent in the woods we have learnt firelighting, cooked over the campfire, learnt about trees and birdsong. There is a sense of achievement, a sense of camaraderie and a break from the challenges of daily life. The only challenges that are presented to them are ones that are surmountable and fun.

I have an amazing team of talented, compassionate and dazzling ladies to back me up: Emma, Bec and Nikki who each have their skills and talents and care about this as much as I do. The thought that this will have to come to an end, due to lack of funding, is terrifying. There’s so much to achieve and we already know that we are making a difference. Getting women into woodlands is so empowering, and we will do everything we can to continue. This project is part of my goal to change the perception of women in woodlands. I want to de-macho and demystify the great outdoors and, by doing so, show women that we are capable of enjoying all of the tranquillity and beauty that Nature has to offer.

2018 UPDATE: Wild Women has now become The Hawthorn Project. Check out the website for more information.