Walking Forest Coventry Camp
Below are some reflections from three camp participants and images taken by Adele Mary Reed.
Perhaps the best moment of 2021 for me was to apply and secure a place in the 4 days Walking Forest camp. Being a MSc Sustainability and Environmental management student at Coventry University, I was eager to participate in the camp and learn about ecology and the environment in natural surroundings rather than in classroom lectures. Also, as an international student who arrived in England during the lockdown, I was to be honest, homesick, and quite low in spirit. Imagine then the thrill I felt to join 30 other women who were as passionate (if not more) about nature and climate injustice as I am. What a transformation that was! Not just did I have an opportunity to learn from Ruth, Shelly, Anne-Marie, and Lucy but the 4 days of sunshine, warmth, friendship, love, gratitude, empathy, and courage bought about a world of difference in me.
The conversations we had, the emotions we collectively felt, the activities we all were part of during these days will always remain imprinted in my mind. The warm welcome from the artists on day 1 set the tone for the rest of us to interact and mingle with each other. During the 4 days, we 30 women from such diverse backgrounds, countries, and age groups (the youngest was a teenager while the senior most was in her 70s) ate, sang, danced, celebrated, and grieved together.
On day 1, we collectively expressed gratitude for being alive, for nature, for friendships. On another day we sowed ‘seeds of courage’ from a pine tree that was planted by Suffragist Lettice Floyd. On day 3, we all sat around a fire, listening to stories of environmental injustices around the world, collectively grieving and feeling the pain of the earth. By day 4, the sense of belonging I felt with these women was so intense. For the first time since I arrived in England, I felt bonded. We women shared our food, our thoughts, our fears and hopes. The sisterhood we created was so incredible that the goodbyes we said were mostly teary.
I have so many memories of these 4 days that picking few is a difficult task. My fondest memory though is from day 3, when we planned a ceremony. We did all sorts of activities from making garlands with fern leaves and blue bells, jumping fire to dancing to a Latvian folk dance. Looking back, I would say if each of we women were a tall, strong, and mighty tree, then the walking forest camp just proved to us how mighty we could together.
As an art student, engaging with climate and based in Glasgow, a city at the forefront of COP26, attending The Walking Forest camp felt like a natural progression. Facilitated further by the ongoing work between Glasgow School of Art’s Sculpture and Environmental Art Department and Walking Forest building up to their work at COP26.
The four-day Walking Forest Camp was a one of a kind experience, a movement run by women for women: connecting feminism, climate and art. When 24 climate conscious creatives come together, sharing original thoughts from the scientific to the political, from activism to community-based work, it is bound to be a spectacular happening. It was an absolute honour to be part of this legacy and to learn from those involved.
Visiting an unfamiliar area was initially a daunting prospect. However, on my arrival, I was met with so many like-minded individuals spanning all ages and walks of life; it felt like coming home. For this reason, among the many beautiful moments at the Walking Forest Camp, Coventry will forever have a special place in my heart.
The climate crisis is often regarded as a controversial topic, for many the conversation proves too overwhelming, leaving the most pressing issue of this and every future generation undiscussed. This was not the case for the women on this camp, they created an open environment in which diverse and engaging dialogue could take place. This was the first time I have experienced the climate and ecological emergency being handled without taboo, leaving all attendants newly informed, empowered and more inquisitive than ever.
The camp was a four day open and engaging conversation, moving away from the verbal to the abstract as each of us takes away an overwhelming sense of intrigue for everything discussed, from tree planting in Africa via a live link with Dorothy Naitore to silent group walks. The latter forming one of my most memorable moments at the camp, etched into my mind as clearly as when it took place. On the second day, we walked through the woods in complete silence; some chose to walk barefoot, others kept their shoes on, but all 24 of us walked in a line. At no point was this discussed, a fallback into the British etiquette of queueing? Or was it of a harmonious relationship with the woodland, one which required one step in front of another? Since this camp, I have often found my mind drifting back to this point; dark earthy shadows, a cool breeze, the rustle of leaves, the squelch of mud. As more of the planet becomes urbanised with concrete and tarmac, it is easy to forget our physical connection with the environment and the grounding it provides.
The second most memorable moment was our joint silent installation, a visual reflection of our experiences at the camp. Fallen branches dragged into the grassy clearing, which became the foundation of the installation. Impulsively I began weaving spiderweb-like structures bringing together the individual branches with those separated by their fall. Meanwhile, two of the women mirrored this movement weaving themselves through the tangled structure. It is no coincidence that both events performed were in silence, highlighting an interconnection of a much deeper kind, with the interactions one makes whilst silent somehow understood and appreciated on a much deeper level, echoing the Suffragette motto of ‘Deeds not Words’.
As the four days drew to a close, creatives from across the globe were dispersed with new perspectives, spreading the roots of knowledge ever further. This global approach sows the seed for a growing holistic and collective response to the issues raised.
I work with people from disadvantaged backgrounds who live in Coventry, to help them access work, education or training. I love helping people and find my work to be very rewarding, I find peace in helping others. I come from a south Asian household, and unfortunately growing up we didn’t have the opportunity to access many nature spots or leisurely time outdoors. This was a way for me to reconnect with nature for my own peace of mind and wellbeing, as I struggle with stress and anxiety.
One of the most peaceful moments I had during this experience was during a walk on our first day at camp, after breakfast. There was a line of us walking down a narrow path through the trees. The sun was warm, and shining through the gaps in the leaves. I could hear birds and squirrels, chirping and moving across the woodland, and I felt very much safe and at peace. We were told for it to be a silent walk, to take our surroundings in, and it was quite emotional.
The Walking Forest camp was a magical experience for me. There were moments of pure joy, reflection, and at times sadness, but I walked away feeling stronger than I did before. Finding unity with other women that cared about the environment, and being around nature, was a healing experience for my soul. I am so grateful to have taken part and to have met so many strong and inspiring women.
Throughout all the moments of reflection, grief, hope, sadness and joy, we all experienced them together. And this was special. Sharing knowledge, wisdom, and exchanging gifts and food, it felt like a big family. It reminded me of how our ancestors used to live. Eating, sharing stories, protecting the environment and being submersed in nature, existing in harmony with each other. I have taken away a sense of peace, hope and strength to carry on fighting.
Some feedback from other camp participants:
Walking forest group has made me reflect and feel more that what I am used to. It has tired me out, but in a very good and powerful way. As an immigrant, sometimes it is difficult to understand and get to know what the country that you live in can offer to you, how you can get involved in things that matter to you and how you can make some change. This camp has pushed and empowered me to look out for those opportunities, for new ways of making. It has opened a door for connecting and sharking with a new network of beautiful women.
Every single evening when I come home, I feel so beyond fulfilled and inspired. Life suddenly feels so exciting, full of possibilities and love, something I haven’t felt in a very long time. I struggle a lot with trusting in my creativity, in my ability to create. For the first time in my life I have connected with somethings inside me. I could just feel it vibrating and glistering, full of light. It feels like a seed, like a ball of energy that guides my hands, my eyes, my ears and turns off my mind and allows me to just be. To trust the nature and trust myself. I have never felt this free, this calm, when creating. I feel like I have a purpose.
I feel less lonely in my daily practice of living with care for all that I do and in leading with kindness. Often, that can feel exhausting, but we are doing it together and ill move forward knowing that these beautiful women are all leading with care, with strength, and with dignity in other parts of Coventry, while I do too, now.
It seems like there are many people who feel the same about the ecological disaster we are facing. I knew it already but connecting with those women has been important. I’m inspired by the eloquence of the young women and by the energy and impact that older women have been engaged in for a long time.