An extraordinary week with extraordinary people

24th February 2022

Last week, we hosted 6 brilliant groups of displaced young people from Big Leaf Foundation for a series of nature-based activities at Surrey Outdoor Learning (SOLD). This project is funded by Natural England to empower connection with nature. 

Connection to the landscape is an integral physical and emotional experience to support a feeling of safety, belonging and purpose for people in their environmental setting, and mental wellbeing. During the week, the Big Leaf teams were encouraged to partake in activities such as high and low ropes set within the woodland, to creative and artistic sessions. This gave the opportunity to reflect, understand and increase confidence in the natural environment. 

These ribbons contain the hopes and dreams of the displaced young people from Big Leaf Foundation, who joined us at SOLD for their session with Surrey Hills based artist, Diana Burch. From becoming members of the police, doctors, cricketers to hopes for a peaceful future, these ribbons were tied around a tree to dance in the breeze and connect their voices to the natural space. 

Some activities were very reflective, stitching and using textile markers on calico pennants. Images of flowers and trees were drawn and stitched, others had included the Afghan flag, pictures of the homes they had been forced to leave and even the chickens in the yard. 

They also had a joyful session tangling coloured wool, full of movement and teamwork. The outcome was a beautiful, natural entanglement of the wool, representing the different strands of their lives that despite the violence and trauma endured, have now come together in the setting of the Surrey Hills.  

Laughter and enjoyment were key parts of each day. In a way, my lack of sharing a common language and cultural roots with the participants ‘turned the tables’ – I became the person who might be considered as an outsider. The most inspiring aspect of these workshops was the way we all worked together and found common ground in creating together. 

Working in the setting of the Surrey countryside was an ideal way to make a bond with the land, where the location acted as provider of art materials as well as a kind of rural gallery to gather the work together.

Diana Burch – Surrey Hills based artist

Leadership, teamwork and kindness are just three of the characteristics held by the inspiring individuals that the Surrey Hills hosted at SOLD from Big Leaf Foundation. During their activities, they were encouraged to discover nature via physical exploration. This ranged from high and low ropes, blind folded guiding tasks and climbing walls. 

An inspiration to us all, these displaced young people were fearless and brought fantastic energy to every experience. They took a kind moment to reflect on their time spent with us so far. 

“This really good day, I am happy”.  

“It was a great time we spent with you. I would like to thank you all for giving us this kind of respect and wish you best of luck and stay blessed in future.”  

“We’ve spent a beautiful time with everyone today”.  

“I’m really happy and beautiful, thank you”.   

Over the last week, these young people laughed, created, faced fears and supported each other during their exploration of the Surrey Hills. An extraordinary week, full of extraordinary people. 

Weeks like this are so important because it gives the young people an opportunity to be outside, to get to know each-other, to leave their accommodation, not to feel so isolated. It’s great for their mental health and general wellbeing. But it also makes them realise that there’s people that care, there’s people that want to help them and they are supported.

Big Leaf Foundation