OUTDOOR LEARNING CONFERENCE 2021
November skies, bright with possibility and a chill in the air, what better time to come together as outdoor practitioners for a much needed fun day out. It felt like a forest school day for us adults, much more than just learning new skills or refreshing old ones. It was a little bonding with our forgotten wild spirit, therapeutic and mindful. A chance to connect with old friends and colleagues and the opportunity to meet new ones. It felt incredibly uplifting and so very good for the soul after all the challenges of the pandemic.
It’s been a few years since the last Herefordshire FSA Outdoor Learning Conference. Our Back to the Wild Team were keen to join forces with outdoor partners and thanks to the power of zoom and email, were able to work collaboratively with the Herefordshire Forest School Association to bring this 2021 conference to life once again. What better setting than Back to the Wild’s HQ, Hellens Manor. Not only is it an incredibly beautiful setting, but we are always so very grateful for the wonderful team of support we have throughout the day to ensure it all runs smoothly.
Starting the day with Naomi Walmsley and Dan Westall from Outback 2 Basics With their talk ‘From Stone Age to Urban Forest School’. Naomi and Dan shared their experiences of living wild as part of Channel 4 documentary “Surviving the Stone Age” and how the power of attention and sensory experience deepens nature connection, even in the most urban of settings. They have some truly special stories and memories of this primitive living experience that they now use to inspire both adults and children…and wow were we inspired!!
Outback 2 Basics is run by husband and wife Naomi and Dan. Both hold various qualifications in outdoor skills from 1st Aid wilderness to Forest school and have been teaching in the outdoors for the past 15 years. But their biggest adventure happened In 2010 which turned out to shape the way they live and teach now.
After many years teaching Bushcraft we both felt we wanted a more authentic platform from which to teach these outdoor skills from. We were tired of teaching using information from others in books. So, we packed our bags, quit our jobs, bid goodbye to our lives in the UK and went on a truly wild journey to the mountains and Forests of Eastern Washington USA to take part in a 5 month course living in the depths of a beautiful cedar woodland. We spent 4 months learning primitive skills from hunting and fishing to making our buckskin to create clothing from. We foraged, crafted, preserved, pickled and dried, practiced making fire, sculpted tools from rocks and bones and submerged our-selves fully in re-learning the skills and crafts of our ancient ancestors. And then the true test came. We left all of our modern comforts and equipment behind and stepped into the wilderness for a month long Stone Age immersion. No phones, no electricity, no maps or sat nav, no chocolate or sugar, and no tent. Only the food we had foraged, the clothes we had made that we were wearing and the stars in the sky as our roof and our guide. Was it tough? Yes! Was it amazing? Completely! Would we do it again? Absolutely!
Our workshop leaders continued the day, inspiring us with clay, felt and the wild creatures, plants and fungi of Hellens Manor. Even for the most experienced of outdoor practitioners, there was some new skill to be learnt or refreshed! It was a day for egos to be left at the door, for us to reconnect with nature, ourselves and rediscover the magic of learning something new.
Anna Mitchell from Creative Clay engages children and adults with nature through creativity that connects to the natural world and changing seasons. Her love of clay and all things wild can be traced back to her childhood; days spent digging clay from the stream at the bottom of the garden and firing creations on an open fire. In this workshop we made 'earth dumplings' (more commonly known as seed bombs) and using seed pods as inspiration, created clay pots to store them in.
Anna has a degree in Fine Art Practice and Forest School Training.With over 20 years experience of working creatively within educational and community sectors, Anna is available for booking for schools and community events. Working initially as an art and ceramic technician followed by tutoring children's ceramics classes at Worcester arts Workshop, she completed her degree as a mature student in 2012. Since then she has delivered workshops and projects within community settings, including Wild Clay Play Workshops for the National Trust at Croome Court and at Hellens Manor as part of their Back to the Wild project.
Tim Kaye from Hidden Herefordshire shared his skills of Biological recording, how to differentiate between different types of beetle using simple, accessible methods and challenged us to discover the wildlife hidden in the gardens and grounds of Hellens.
Hidden Herefordshire: discovering its wildlife and wild places, aims to connect people, young and old to recording wildlife wherever they are. During the Covid-19 pandemic there has been a massive increase in people’s appreciation of nature and the resulting mental health benefits. The project aims to further encourage this interest with the wider community; those of all ages and from all backgrounds. Over the next couple of years there will be loads of fun and engaging opportunities for the people of Herefordshire to get involved. Once the project has ended there will be an improved understanding of the biological heritage of Herefordshire, and therefore better information in both a local and national context regarding how species and habitats are faring. Promotion and coordination of these activities allow a new HBRC website to be launched to further improve the work they are already doing.
Caroline Gilbert from CLaN in the cosy haywain barn, we were taught the basics of Wet Wool Felting by Caroline Gilbert of Cultivating Learning and Nature CIC. A chance to slow down, get creative and chat whilst enjoying this therapeutic, environmentally friendly and beautiful workshop.
“Since being taught to spin my first ball of wool by my Grandma nearly 30 years ago I have had a love of wool ever since which sits alongside the other crafts I also do such sewing, felting, basket weaving and traditional food crafts like cheese making. I have worked in outdoor education for the past 13 years. I ran a plant nursery for several years where I taught adults with disabilities horticulture before having my own children. When I am not involved in CLaN I am a learning support assistant at our wonderful local secondary school. I love seeing people benefit from working in a natural environment and being creative. I am a member of the International Feltmakers Association and have recently started my Certificate in Feltmaking Techniques with them.”
I think it’s safe to say we are all ready and eager to do it all again.
Watch space for the Herefordshire Outdoor Learning Conference 2022 held at Hellens Manor.
Wild wishes from,
Back to the Wild Team