Like many people during the pandemic lockdown, I started going on walks near where I lived. To breathe in the air, from being couped up inside all that time, was really important. Caulms Wood was just there.
I’ve got a little boy and a dog, so getting out of the house for that bit of exercise was good for our wellbeing and gave us a change of scenery.
Being from New Zealand, everything in England is fascinating. So walking through the woods, with its beautiful trees and bushes and wildlife, was so enjoyable. We’re so built up here, but we have this beautiful piece of woodland right on our doorstep.
I got to wondering who was looking after this place, as it was very overgrown. I took some tools one day and began cutting back some of the overgrown bushes and trees. I started to clear some of the paths to make them easier to walk on. After a while it began to open up into a really nice clearing.
It seemed that all of a sudden this piece of land people didn’t know was there, became accessible. They started using the footpaths I’d cleared, began saying hello, carrying cutters of their own, picking up litter, just doing bits on their way through.
I refer to the people who use it collectively as The Friends of Caulms Wood, but it isn’t a constituted group like many others at local parks. It’s this really fluid, informal community who see the value in the space.
For me it was a case of, if I tidy this up then more people will use it. And they have. I think they share my view of, “How can we make this place on our doorstep so much better?”
And I take a sense of pride in that. What I started doing for my own mental wellbeing, to see others participating and knowing I encouraged that just by doing, gives me a real sense of reward.
And as if in response, the wildlife I thought was abundant in Caulms Wood seems to have multiplied. You could always hear the robins and wood pigeons, but now the bird song is much more varied. With meadow planting there is now the sound of crickets and insects – like the eco-system has been grown and replenished.
From what I started as a way to keep active and connected, to other people contributing, bringing their children, I’d like to think this will exist as a space for everyone for another generation at least.
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Thank you to Melissa for sharing this story after running a successful Growing Great Places campaign. Growing Great Places is our community crowdfunding programme which helps people to get great ideas off the ground in their local place.