Category: CHARITY


Mental Health Awareness week and shifting perspectives

It’s mental health awareness week and Alan Sugar has been in the news, labelled as out of touch for criticising colleagues for taking Friday afternoons off during the summer. This strikes me as symbolic of the changing times, an awareness that the pandemic has brought home so strongly for so many people: that for our society to flourish and grow, we each need to check our priorities.

For me, I believe this means prioritising our mental health. When the first lockdown hit, flung into a world of unknowns, I created a daily work schedule that put things like doing yoga outside, going for walks in nature, reading and meditating at the front. This was the way I began my day, how I took breaks between long stretches behind the laptop and how I rounded my day off.

I put looking after myself first, so when things really spiralled in the practical sense – when my relationship crumbled under the strain of long distance and isolation; when I had to move out of my shared house in fear from another tenant’s increasingly aggressive behaviour; when the housing crises hit home with rentals being snapped up faster than anyone had ever experienced before – I had some solid ground beneath me.

These coping mechanisms were things that I learnt through years of travel after I’d finished my education: time spent at The Mindfulness Project in Thailand, silent meditation retreats in Buddhist monasteries and yoga teacher training in India to name but a few illuminating experiences. These were skills I picked up along the way in the freedom of my adult years, but if this had all happened when I was 14, the story today would be very different.

SisterWood was born to pass on these skills and show young people that they too are capable of forming a strong foundation to fall back on in times of crises. We’re stronger than we know – as a wise friend once told me, it’s when we think we’re drowning that we discover just how strong a swimmer we are.

But we can’t do it alone. We need communities around us that recognise what we need to grow, kind people who can point out a different perspective, and those that understand and support us to work through the challenges and make it to the other side.

Gone are the days when ‘mental health’ was a term that implied insanity and instability. And gone is the society that feared those who led their lives differently.

Today we’re welcoming in a new way of being, a kinder way, putting first the things that make the world a welcoming place to be, where we look out for each other, make time to spend with the people we love and value thinking that comes from a new angle.

Because our young people cannot thrive in a world that doesn’t.


Wellbeing and the woods


Where did the inspiration for SisterWood come from?


“Where did the inspiration for SisterWood come from? What made you so certain you wanted to work with young women?”

Whenever I’ve spoken to people about SisterWood, these questions are always what comes up – why it all came about, what inspired me to bring young women together, or why it was necessary. I found that in writing this for the website I struggled to condense the story down, but in talking to people it was easy. This blog bridges the two to give a little more context to it all.

I spent years studying the world around me from a young age, through engagement in the youth organisation The Woodcraft Folk, in my A Levels and a course in Global Development at University, always looking out there, pointing the finger and trying to figure out how I could fix the mess I saw, or be of use in some way with newly found knowledge of injustice around the world.

From around the same time that I was learning about the world and it’s contradictions, I was also learning how to teach, holding singing workshops and choirs for people just slightly younger than myself with Wren Music in Devon. For 5 years I watched young people grow in confidence and empowerment as they learnt to use their voice to create something beautiful in harmony with others. This was juxtaposed with the frustration I felt at learning about the world we live in, and everything I learnt always came back to the question of environmental sustainability, living within the limits of our home which global capitalism seemed to ignore. Teaching singing in this way and being a part of young people’s growth and development, I felt alive, present, and full of purpose. There was a nugget of a lesson in there, but it was years later until I was able to see that.

When I left university I traveled extensively, trying to find where I could be of most use with the skills I had gained and knowledge I’d learnt, but it was at the Mindfulness Project in Thailand that I started to slow down. Drawing my attention inwards, I began looking at my own actions and perceptions, the way I communicated with myself and how that has a ripple out effect to others. I learnt the value of paying attention to the simple act of breathing, and through movement brought awareness back into my body.

As I went on to take a yoga teacher training course in India, inspired by the calm headspace I had found when first practicing at uni, I realised there is so much truth in the ancient teachings about looking after yourself if you want to make real lasting change in the world.

“Yesterday I was clever so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise so I am changing myself” Rumi

It became clear to me that my path was to bring together this simple teaching of getting in touch with our bodies and engaging with the incredible natural world we live in.

Then on beginning to teach yoga and deliver forest school sessions on my return to the UK, I noticed a glaringly obvious gap in provision.

Both are often pitched at and full of people who come from wealthier backgrounds, and the forest school sessions I was delivering, where children were referred to from their schools, were exclusively boys. Girls’ needs were not being picked up on, and in training in autism I discovered that this is because girls are really good at masking to hide their difficulties in order to ‘fit in’.

It was clear to me that the way people in the UK access things that are good for them, their communities and the world was skewed towards those that are already going to have different life options.

My own life experiences had shown me the subtle discrimination women face when engaging in practical tasks – the surprised looks from people; the rush to help lift something that’s easily within my capabilities; the language around physicality; the difficulty finding practical clothing for women’s bodies and more.

It hasn’t actually been that long since women have gained a seat at the table, and there are still so many preconceived notions about our abilities that filter down to our young people, inadvertently limiting what they believe they are capable of.

I realised over the years that I’d picked up so many wonderful practices that were beneficial for mental health, and that in collating them together to pass on to young women, we can even out the playing field.

That’s what SisterWood is all about: giving young women and those that identify as female the tools to navigate difficulty. Providing them activities and an inner knowledge of their capabilities so they can draw on these resources when they need some headspace and a shift in perspective.