Wellbeing Programme for Women

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

We invite women who struggle with their mental health 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 wellbeing and improve self-esteem. 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 started as a project for women in recovery from substance abuse to offer 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.

It is now open to any woman who may benefit from it, especially women who wouldn’t normally access a place or activities like this.

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 to further improve their confidence and skills.

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

The term starting 4 January 2023 is now full. Please check again mid January for the following term or email alice@tortwortharboretum.org to find out about availability. 

Term Dates:

4 January 2023 – 8 February 2023

Signing Up

We are recruiting individuals who identify as women to take part. Participants can be referred from a GP, a social prescribing link worker or a support worker.  You MUST have a referral to take part.

Participants are asked to commit to the full 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, Bristol, at 10.30am, returning by 3.00pm.

How to make a referral

Please sign up to our newsletter for referrals to keep up to date with term dates and find out when we accept new referrals or check our website.

Download our Information Pack and Application Form in PDF or Microsoft Word.

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

Our team

Kelly Eldridge, Bushcraft Lead

With a background in Countryside Management and Environmental Education, Kelly has many years experience working in the outdoors, she is at her happiest out enjoying the countryside often accompanied by her faithful companion Basil the dog.

Besides her passion for the natural environment Kelly also has a love of history and crafts, heritage and country crafts in particular. She has spent many years studying Countryside Management, History and Experimental Archaeology and truly believes that learning more about our past and how our ancestors and forebears lived helps us to gain a better understanding of the natural world and how we connect and move within it. ‘Historically people were much more in tune with nature and the seasons, understanding the past is a great way to try and better understand how to preserve and enhance our environment in the future.’

This love of learning also extends to learning new skills and crafts, Kelly is always interested In trying out new things and spends much of her spare time on courses and workshops trying to acquire new skills, when she is not doing this you will often find her in her pottery workshop elbows deep in clay.

Mari Clare Lowden, Forest School Assistant

Clare studied in Arts and for the last seven years has worked in hands-on creative roles. She is a strong believer in the benefits of nature and creativity, and the role they play in promoting positive mental health.

With a keen interest in wellbeing, Clare has experience in Art Therapy and Eco-Therapy, and combined with her love for the outdoors, this has led her to complete her Level 3 Forest School training. 

From leatherwork to printmaking to pottery, Clare loves to share and explore new processes in the outdoors. An ardent walker, cyclist, and outdoor swimmer, she is an advocate of spending time in nature whatever the weather!

Maria Carvalho, Wellbeing Lead

Maria, wellbeing lead

Maria has worked in the Bristol voluntary sector for eight years supporting young people and people experiencing addiction.

After being one of Hawthorn’s biggest fans for years, she joined the team this year!

She has experience of creating community spaces and wellbeing groups for people who have experienced trauma and other challenges. She is a big believer in the healing powers of being outdoors and the simple but powerful joy that sitting around a fire can bring.

In the rest of the week, she is studying public health, thinking about broader systemic changes through campaig work, and is training to be a qualified mountain leader.

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.