10 - 16 May is Mental Health Awareness Week, and this year's campaign focuses on the positive impact nature can have on our wellbeing.
Simon, known as ‘Woody Simon’, has been volunteering with ARK at Egwood CIC for about 2 years. Having spent 40 years working behind a desk, he now spends time in the natural environment, and for him, the experience has been profound. Read his motivational story.
“Having worked all my life in the aerospace industry, I was coming up to retirement and looking for a challenge. My friend Jackie, the volunteer coordinator at ARK, was looking for volunteers. Perfect! I could finally get away from my desk, be outdoors and do something physically challenging. Most importantly, I could help others whilst also being able to express myself in the work I did there.
“I met Nigel and the team at ARK, heard about their backgrounds and experiences and their ambition for their ‘big field’. Their focus and enthusiasm made me buy into the project straight away.
“Every day at ARK is a learning day, gaining new skills and techniques from people of many different backgrounds and areas of expertise. You also learn how best to help and develop people with different needs to yourself. It works both ways; I give to them, and they give great things back to me. It couldn’t be simpler or more rewarding.
"It works both ways; I give to them, and they give great things back to me. It couldn’t be simpler or more rewarding."
“For example, one guy wanted to try wood carving, so I helped him to carve a wooden spoon. He persevered all day and was so happy to take home not only a physical object, the spoon, but also new skills and respect. You don’t just go to ARK to ‘do’ an activity. You go to engage with the people and the place, to relax in the environment, to achieve something and to take something away. That applies to everybody there.
“One of my proudest achievements is helping to create a woodland craft facility in a clearing in the 2-acre Beech wood. I’ve developed old world woodcrafts facilities that respect their environment whilst creating a festival style seating area where people can come and work, learn or simply sit and relax in the nature around them.
“I have been desk bound for most of my working life. So suddenly being outdoors and free, lifting, dragging and pushing things around has improved my physical health enormously. Mentally, the benefits of being outdoors in a beautiful environment just cannot be overstated whilst nature’s ever-changing face never lets you take the place for granted. The biggest buzz, however, comes from going home knowing that you have helped others in no matter how small a way.
"Mentally, the benefits of being outdoors in a beautiful environment just cannot be overstated."
“To anyone thinking of volunteering I would say come with your enthusiasm, an open mind and an open heart and that’s how you’ll get the most out of it.”
Nigel Bell, who is responsible for developing ARK commented, "Simon and the other ARK volunteers are what helps to provide the socially engaging environment we strive to achieve. Without people like Simon, ARK would not be what it is, and we would not be doing the great work that we are. “Simon is testament to the mental and physical benefits of spending time at ARK".
If Simon's story has inspired you to get involved in volunteering, click on the link below.