Spirit of the Forest

In 2015, we worked with the Pondhead Conservation Trust and the New Forest National Park Authority on a programme that used the setting of the New Forest for a health and wellbeing programme.

Spirit of the Forest was a twelve-week art therapy programme that used an outdoor setting as a therapeutic space. The therapy space was a beautiful clearing in Pondhead Inclosure, an area of ancient woodland near Lyndhurst.

The project offered adults with mental health issues the opportunity to work outdoors using natural materials to create artworks, ranging from charcoal drawings made with the products of the new charcoal burning kiln on site, to clay pots made with the clay dug from the area. We explored working with the natural materials at hand – creating hangings, marking paths and routes, drying and stripping nettles for cordage and experimenting with drawing and mark making.

The outcomes were positive, with one person going into full- time employment following the programme, and two other participants attending mentoring courses and volunteering on other projects.

The project team consisted of lead art therapist, Sam Lewis, arts facilitator, Rachael Williams and art student, Emily Spittle.

We provided a non-judgmental, consistent, safe space for a group of people with mental health issues to benefit from creative therapy.

A therapy space is usually controlled by the therapist, but in the forest setting the power dynamics of the group became more balanced; everyone formed their own personal attachment to the space. The space was also shared by wildlife and other forest users, so could be stimulating in unpredictable ways too.

The group grew to love the space, whatever the forest and the seasons brought. Working in the forest setting initially presented a variety of practical challenges but these were embraced and actually proved to be exhilarating opportunities.

I have found that over the weeks I have built up confidence and learned new skills, also I have moved from a very solitary approach to my life and I am now happier in a group and enjoy the differences that other people bring.

I have found this experience very positive having met a lovely bunch of people and learned a lot of new skills which I am using in my day-to-day life.


The Barker-Mill Foundation supported this programme with funding.

The New Forest National Park Authority supported this programme with advice and funding.

Pondhead Conservation Trust supported this programme by creating a bespoke glade for these activities and enabling access to the site.