As the sun beams through the forest canopy, a small group of intrepid explorers set up camp and start green woodworking. We’re here as part of Headway Cambridgeshire’s Outdoor Project, working alongside five people who have had a brain injury, be that a haemorrhage, tumour or road traffic collision to provide a new take on brain injury social rehabilitation.

But before we get into that, let’s rewind the clock a couple of years when as part of the Headway Cambridgeshire Bushcraft Group, we were awarded some money to fund some bushcraft teaching workshops. We sought out the CambridgePPF team at Wandlebury Country Park and arranged for six sessions of spoon carving, hurdle making and wicker bowl weaving. Our time there was so valuable that we reconfigured the group to allow ourselves to be able to volunteer at Wandlebury every other week, and we have been working alongside the CambridgePPF team on a variety of conservation and management projects over the last couple of years.

As our relationship with the team grew, we started to think of new ways in which we could work together for the mutual benefit of both charities, making use of the green woodworking area in Wandlebury, processing some of their materials and contributing to the working life of the park. The Outdoor Project was born.

For the past nine weeks, we have mustered every Tuesday at Wandlebury Country Park, walking down to the coppicing area through forests of birch and beech to saw, carve and shape wood into a variety of useful objects; including making stools for the camp, a variety of wooden mallets to use in the woodworking process, a couple of butter knives and our first commission, a kitchen roll holder for one of our volunteers!

This work provides a safe outdoor space for those with a brain injury to experience a day in a woodland setting, away from the trappings of the modern world, to spend time together and work, using traditional techniques and practices, with beautiful natural materials. The group encourages and works alongside each other, experiencing both the physical challenges and rewards of being outside, but also the benefits to their mental health and well-being.

One of our clients, Sam, outlines a usual Tuesday…

“I arrive in the car park in the morning and meet the other guys. We take a walk down to the coppicing site, which can take 20 minutes to walk to due to the natural, uneven ground, and my own issues with balance. I particularly like stopping to notice some of the wildlife around me, including taking photos of bees and butterflies. Once at the site, we prepare ourselves for a day of green woodworking, which could be making a knife or a wooden mallet. But it’s not all work; we bring tea, coffee and biscuits and have a good time as a group under the trees. I’ve been carving a butter knife out of a thin offcut of wood for the past two weeks and it’s nearly ready to spread! I like the group as I’ve not yet reached a place where I am ready to return to employment, and the group helps me to learn strategies to succeed and cope with the different effects of my brain injury.”

Over time, we will be working closely alongside the CambridgePPF team to create stakes, tent pegs and a variety of other useful objects for the conservation and management of the park. Watch this space for exciting future developments and with the Ashes just around the corner, maybe, just maybe even a cricket bat!