Armed Forces veterans in the west midlands are benefiting from the expansion of the Telford based ‘Into the Woods’ programme run by Small Woods Association, in partnership with The Veteran’s Lottery and Bournville Village Trust following a successful pilot in 2023.

Based at the grade 2 listed Squatters Cottage in Lightmoor Village, owned by Bournville Village Trust, on the edge of the densely wooded and historic Ironbridge Gorge, the programme, which has been extended to the end of summer 2024, will see dozens of ex-service personnel coming together over the course of the year to share their experiences, and connect with the natural world in a new way.

The ‘Into the Woods’ programme is one of the first in the region to pair green social prescribing, the practice of supporting people to engage in nature-based interventions and activities to improve their mental and physical health, and woodland management, providing participants with an opportunity to engage in meaningful tasks which connect them both to nature and peer support.

Project Manager Rebecca Vincent-Evans is in no doubt of the value of work at Squatter’s Cottage: “Thanks to the Veteran’s Lottery we can have a safe outdoor space for where like-minded people can have conversations not feel judged, and a project that enhances the environment”.

Designed with the help of retired and active service personnel and their families, the project offers a connection to nature, allowing participants the opportunity to build their confidence and self-esteem, cement positive relationships with others in a similar situation and find ways to ensure positive mental health management.

The programme will undertake the first active management of young woodland close to Ironbridge Gorge, taking a shelter belt plantation in need of positive intervention work and creating open, light filled woodland with greater biodiversity, health and amenity for the local community.

Fleur Hemming, BVT Lightmoor Village Estates and Stewardship Manager said: “Seeing the ‘Into the Woods’ programme grow and develop has been remarkable we are so pleased the programme is being extended and look forward to seeing more people taking part and the exciting changes to our woodlands surrounding Lightmoor Village”.

Work on the project began in the first week of December and will continue through the winter dormant season with intervention work and with green wood working, family events and community interaction during summer.