Singing under the stars

I’d been looking for somewhere to run a singing weekend to re-connect people with the natural environment and each other, and I knew as soon as I arrived at Hazel Hill Wood that it was absolutely perfect.

wood smokeThere’s something quite magical about the space and the energy that hits you as soon as you arrive. My group absolutely loved it – from spotting deer in the trees to the smell of the wood smoke mixing with the decaying autumn leaves, to singing songs about the moon in the moonlight and songs about forests under the trees.

The space itself was really homely and welcoming – so lovingly crafted and well thought through, and the well stocked kitchen met all of our food and tea and coffee needs.

Forest Ark Hazel Hill WoodEveryone wanted to know how soon we could come back – with more than one optimistically asking if we could just sneak back the following weekend and do it all over again.

Thank you to everyone who has put time and love into creating such a wonderful space, and to the woodland itself for allowing us to share our harmonies with it. We can’t wait to come back.

Xenia Davis, Choir leader/community musician/singing teacher


Kids in the Wood @HHW: saunter, stumble, climb, explore, trip and get messy

Written by Isobel Jacobs

Silly songs and marshmallows on an open fire, under an arc of ancient trees; a small brown frog passed gently from hand to small hand; wheelbarrow races through leaves. These are moments that many city parents yearn for their children. I certainly have for my curious, happy six-year-old daughter, Aphra.

AAAA0015Kids in the Woods at Hazel Hill has made them a reality for her. Conceived and loosely guided by Jake Farr and Jon Hall as a way for city kids and their parents to spend time in nature, via regular seasonal weekends in the woods, the project has become a soft pulse in our diaries, something to look forward to that’s completely different from anything else we do.

Kids in the Woods gives children the chance to saunter, stumble, climb, explore, trip and get dirty in a natural but safe environment within a watchful, loving community of like-minded people; to allow them to understand the rhythms of nature and how they fit into it.

We’ve had many wonderful times in the wood. Den building was a highlight for the little ones – from searching for raw materials to the final delight of sitting inside a structure that, two hours before, hadn’t existed. There have been rambly walks, discovering the wood’s secret spaces, its hides and clearings, with a sturdy stick in one hand and blackberries in the other. Eagerly awaited meals of bread dunked in freshly made soup and spicy curries take place around communal tables .

IMG-20151005-WA0018If Aphra was nervous to begin with, it was quickly dispelled by sheer fun. Following simple trails through the woods set up by a rival team of adults and children has been brilliant and will be enjoyed again and again – but they weren’t as hilarious as when one of the dads covered himself with leaves and chased the little ones, screaming, all the way back to the Oakhouse.

Have there been tough moments? Yes, when Aphra discovered a tick had burrowed its way under her skin; when she felt a bit ‘left out’; when she got up too early (with excitement) and was, frankly, hysterical with exhaustion by mid-afternoon. But, at the same time, these are moments common to childhood, to be negotiated and worked out, again in the company of those who care about her.

Watching my little girl march confidently back and forth in the dark to the campfire, reach out – a bit wary at first, then nurturing – for that frog, concentrate in a way I’d not known she was capable of on making a bow: all these moments have brought me a satisfaction as a parent that can never be met by games on the iPad or watching Despicable Me for the fourth time.

nature_walkKids in the Woods feels like a beautiful, necessary counterpoint to a life of digital amusements. Children often have an intrinsic interest in, even passion for, nature and its moods and forces (this from a mother of a little girl who goes into a trance of happiness when her bare toes touch grass and still squeaks with excitement when a rainbow appears) but it can be nudged out by the easy attractions of the city.

And the point, it seems to me, is even greater than regaining this interest: it is about learning to value nature from a personal perspective, founded in joy, so that – when and if she is called upon to do so – she will work to protect and safeguard it with a very real sense of connection.

All best, Isobel x

Back to Work: Drag or Delight? Find yourself or lose yourself in the daily task

roadworks-signAs we approach September, you may be going back to a regular job, or not.  Either scenario may leave you happy or blue.  August seems a good time to reflect on how work fits into your life.

I observe people talking a lot about work, but in a very selective way.  They talk about what they’re doing, maybe moan about the boss, but rarely say what work really means to them.  I believe that’s because work is so important, so personal, so bound up with their sense of self, that it’s too sensitive to talk about.

In the 1990s I led many weekend workshops on the theme Find Your Gift in Work: these groups gave a safe place and structures to explore how work and life can fit, and I feel honoured to have shared so many journeys.  These taught me a lot too: here are a few highlights:

  • Know what’s holding you back.  Do you have doubts or beliefs that limit you in your work?  For example, some people believe they should not earn more or succeed more than their fathers…
  • Are you re-creating your childhood family at work?  I was amazed in my workshops to see how often this happens.  For example, were you bullied as a child by your father?  Was the family always arguing?  Did you have a habitual role, such as the joker or the scapegoat?  Any echoes in your current work??
  • Reduce your financial needs.  It’s easy to feel trapped or pressured about work because of money needs.  Cut back on your needs, and free up your choices!
  • Understand about human sustainability.  I believe that environmental depletion and pollution has close parallels in human work: this is fully explained in my book, The Natural Advantage: Renewing Yourself.  If your work is exhausting you, you need a systemic view of the problem and how to change it.
  • Believe you can fulfill your passion.  First you need the courage to discover your vision, then you need patience and intelligence to make your dream practical.  You don’t have to jump off a cliff, you can find the right steps…

Whether you’re in work or out of work, if you’re unhappy about the situation, believe you can change it for the better.  And if looking within doesn’t give you the clues, look around you: notice what issues concern or excite you, and explore how you could make a difference.

All of these issues matter even more for most men, as their work is often central to their sense of self.  This is one of the issues you could explore on the weekend of August 28-31, at a weekend led by Alan Heeks and Nick Mabey: Manfulness, Mindfulness, Music and more.  For full details click here