Programme for Women in Recovery

The Hawthorn Project is a women’s recovery project based at Tortworth Forest Centre.

We invite women in recovery from substance abuse to join us for our weekly woodland sessions, to build confidence, self-esteem and wellbeing.

Throughout the programme participants will develop skills and confidence that will support their ongoing recovery and improve self-esteem and wellbeing. The programme is funded by The National Lottery Community Fund and is completely free to participants.

I just wanted to thank you again for today. The beautiful colours, the foraging in the undergrowth, the sausages and baked apples. But most of all thank you to you and Jill. You are both so gentle and compassionate. I was in a dreadful place when I arrived. And yawned contentedly in the car on the way home.

What you are doing with the women in the woods is truly healing.

The Project

The project is the first of its kind, run by women for women. It offers women the opportunity to step outside of their day-to-day lives and spend some time in a safe space learning new skills, creating positive social connections and a break from focusing on their addiction.

The women who take part report improvements in their physical health, their relationships with their families, their self-esteem and their enjoyment of life. Some of these women return as peer mentors.

As part of the Hawthorn Project, women learn woodland skills such as fire lighting, outdoor cooking, plant, wildlife and birdsong identification, crafts and tool use. This is all taught in such a way so as to improve confidence, encourage peer support and teamwork, and of course to be enjoyable. All the activities are non-compulsory – we recognise the value of a good cup of tea and a chat! All we ask is our women come with a positive attitude and allow those who are doing activities to do so with encouragement and positivity.

Women who attend the project say that it gives them something to look forward to each week, and a reason to stay sober.

This project can dramatically change lives, creating a positive support network that will last beyond the duration of the project; women will have the support network, the tools and resources they need to continue their recovery.

When participants feel ready, we offer support to join one of the volunteering and conservation opportunities at Tortworth Forest Centre which aims to support individuals in recovery.

Why Woodlands?

Taking time out of our daily lives to switch off, relax, and focus on ourselves is important to our mental wellbeing. But so often we don’t feel that we have the skills, equipment or knowledge to step out into the wild; nor do we prioritise looking after our own needs over the competing needs of our lives, our families and relationships.

This is especially true of women who are in recovery.

We know that when we spend time together in the woodland we feel more relaxed and confident. With us, you will meet new people who are also committed to recovery and can support and help each other, and together we form good memories of our time under the trees. With support and guidance from our experienced woodland leaders, you will leave with new knowledge and confidence in your own abilities to take on new challenges.

Studies have shown that spending time in nature is good for our health, lowers our blood pressure, relaxes us and makes us happier. And the best bit is that nature is completely free.

Previous participants have told us that they leave feeling relaxed and calm; that they feel alive again, and rediscover who they were before their addiction.

This is the breathing space you need to return to your life with confidence to deal with your addiction, and to face the challenges that life brings.

The arboretum is a stunning place to be in all weather and all year round, with beauty at every turn. Wild animals, exotic trees, wildflowers, the smell of woodsmoke, and of course the gentle bleating of our woodland goats.

Sign Up

We are currently accepting new applications for the  term  starting 5 January 2022.

Download our Information Pack and Application Form (Word) or Application Form (pdf)

Email your completed form to If you need to send your form via post please let us know at the above email address.

Please sign up to our newsletter for referrals to keep up to date with term dates and when we accept new referrals.

Covid-19 Update

We have a Covid-19 Policy and risk assessment for this project and have made some changes to how we run the day to make it as safe as possible, without causing unnecessary anxiety.

All participants are involved in talking through the measures and we will continue to monitor the situation and make changes as necessary. This may involve reducing numbers, or stopping entirely, but we are aiming to continue for as long as we can while remaining safe.

For a copy of the risk assessment email

Term Dates:

Next intake:

5th January 2022

Signing Up

We are recruiting individuals who identify as women to take part,  and participants can be referred from a GP, a support worker. You MUST have a referral to take part.

Participants are asked to commit to the full 6-week term as we know from experience that it takes a few sessions for women to start to take ownership of the programme and see the full benefits of being in the woods.

Participants need to be in recovery at the time of the programme. We cannot support women who are using.

Transport is provided from/to Portland Square at 10.30am, returning by 3.00pm.

Our team

Syreeta Muirhead, Forest School Leader

Syreeta is a Design teacher, forest school leader and general outdoors enthusiast. Having spent 30 years hiking, mountain biking, climbing, surfing and scuba diving, she decided to swap class rooms for grass and trees, nature’s true learning environment.

Syreeta has taught textiles, food, architecture and engineering for 16 years. She is a Jaqueline of all trades and can literally make you anything.

Yaz Brien, Project Leader

Yaz has been supporting and advocating for adults and young people experiencing domestic abuse, homelessness and mental health problems for over 20 years.

As well as a background in frontline advice and support services, Yaz set up and coordinated the Sustain Project, a collaboration between Volunteer Bristol and Bristol Drug Project, which supported people in recovery into volunteering and employment.

A keen walker and outdoor swimmer Yaz is passionate about the role of nature connection and being outdoors (in all weathers) on our wellbeing.

Alice Bottini-Hall, Project Manager

Alice heard about the Hawthorn Project when it first started and thought it was her dream project. So when she saw a vacancy for Project Manager she knew she had to apply.

She has supported women experiencing gendered violence for the past 10 years and supported volunteer engagement with various topics from climate change to child poverty.

She is passionate about supporting people to overcome trauma and improve their mental health and feels that a strong connection with nature is an important step in one’s journey towards a more content existence.