The Cart Shed

Our Advent Charity

Talk at St James, Colwall, 1 December 2019

The Cart Shed is a charity based in North Herefordshire that uses woodland, occupational therapy and green woodcraft to enable individuals to address any emotional imbalance they may be experiencing. Around 60 volunteers support us as cooks, drivers, tutors or with site maintenance.

We provide tailored therapeutic support in a woodland setting, helping those experiencing an imbalance in their lives to heal, learn new skills, find friendship and a future.

Our aim is to enable individuals to learn how to manage their own mental and physical health and well-being in a sustainable way.

We're a Natural solution: a Herefordshire answer to meeting the needs of the County's rural, dispersed communities and urban populations by creatively using its natural resource.

We work with adults and young people, members of the Armed Forces, Veterans, ex-police officers, paramedics, teachers, medical staff, factory workers, carers, the unemployed and school children. The youngest is 11, the oldest 88.

We work in partnership with a wide range of community initiatives and organisations, local business, schools and Herefordshire Council.

During holiday periods we also run a kid's club which offers fun activities outdoors to the children of working parents - the intention is to develop healthy behaviours at a young age, which can be taken into adulthood to help improve emotional resilience.

We became signatories to the Armed Forces Covenant in 2014.

In 2017 The Charity was awarded the Queens Award for Voluntary Service. In April this year we won Herefordshire Council's Community Champions Award for volunteering and Herefordshire Business awards Charity of The Year; we were also finalists in the Hereford Social Care awards.

Mental health affects us all, and poor mental health will affect all of us at some time in our lives, whether through the death of a loved one, the stress of moving to a new house, concerns about our employment or exams.

How well we manage these episodes will depend on many factors including our physical health, our social networks and how many emotional challenges we have had to face in any given period.

We work with those experiencing long term physical and mental health issues and those who are experiencing their first emotional upset, those with bi-polar, schizophrenia, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, substance misuse, bereavement, stress and those for whom a sudden unexpected event has knocked them off balance.

Poor mental health does not respect age, gender, creed or colour. Too many people live with poor mental health hiding their symptoms fearful of how they may be judged.

What might you do and where might you turn if you begin to feel life is too much? It still takes great courage to admit to a friend or doctor that you are struggling, and we as a society are bad at stopping to listen. All too often the response to a request for help will be, "oh you'll feel better in a day or two", "pull yourself together, it could be worse", "but you've got everything: a good job, family and a lovely house, what have you got to feel bad about", "If you stopped drinking, you'd be fine."

You might have seen or heard about a new campaign launched recently by Public Health England, which is aimed at encouraging everyone to consider their mental health and to take care of their mental health as they would their physical health. They have an on-line tool Every Mind Matters, which includes a short questionnaire about how you are feeling, your mood and anxieties, stress, worries, and sleeping; once completed it then directs you to a variety of resources and top tips to help you address your concerns.

We were very proud that The Cart Shed was picked out by Public Health England as a good example of how you can address any emotional imbalance you may be feeling. These are their 6 Top tips to improve your Mental Health include:

So what will you find at The Cart Shed?

Participants arrive at the woodland's edge and then walk to the woodland camp. It's a small village of canvas covered open sided shelters. You will be greeted with a hot drink, biscuits and a smile and invited to sit by a warming fire. Following an introduction around what activities are set to take place that day, you might stay by the fire and learn to make a basket or whittle a stick into a spoon, or move to one of the greenwood work shelters to make something on the pole-lathe or shave horse, or perhaps go on a walk around the woodland and farm.

If needed, individuals can have one to one sessions with our team of occupational therapists, who help to identify and address concerns people might be feeling. After a morning of activity, we come together to share a meal before continuing with our activities for the afternoon. At the end of the day we come together again to celebrate our achievements and share experiences before returning home, tired, smelling of woodsmoke, more able to face life's challenges in the coming week.

We are open year-round whatever the weather. We take shelter under the canopy of the trees from the driving rain or scorching heat of the sun.

We celebrate and experience the seasons as they turn and turn about. We experience the spectacular, the challenging, the mundane and the mud.

The changes in flora and fauna: birds gathering to depart for warmer dimes or the sudden arrival of the first cuckoo in April heralding the arrival of spring - it is a wonderful and life-affirming environment. It is our natural environment, from where we once came and from where for millennia we have taken shelter, food and warmth and which now we all too often ignore.

We offer opportunities to try something new and to improve well-being, to find friendships, a sense of belonging and a place of calm in a supportive, caring environment. A hearty nutritious lunch is freshly cooked each day in our woodland kitchen by one of our many volunteers, using vegetables grown in our kitchen garden.

Sharing food, stories, experiences and life's challenges, being in a safe place, a place that doesn't judge, a place where it's safe to laugh and safe to cry and a place that enables all of us to find a sense of inner peace. We are a community, a family which welcomes new faces each week and supports those who have been with us for a while, to find a future.

I was very touched when I was asked if The Cart Shed would be interested in becoming Colwall's Advent Charity for 2019. We are a secular church, but we too walk alongside the vulnerable and the outcast and bring them back into the heart of our communities. Thank you for your time and generosity. I wish you all a very creative Advent as we all now take time to prepare for Christmas.