In 2020, Covid-19 has meant that many of us have had to adapt our home and work lives during lockdown. We hear how Anna and Leila, Coed Lleol / Small Woods staff in Wales, have adapted programmes and set up creative craft businesses during lockdown. Anna is a Project Officer for our Connecting People and Nature in Merthyr Tydfil. Leila was a Woodland Mentor until recently for our Actif Woods Wales project in Swansea (maternity cover).
I have worked on various projects for Coed Lleol / Small Woods since 2011. My background is as an outdoor instructor, overseas expedition leader and cycle guide. So, focusing more on conservation and crafts, developing woodland sites in the rural wards of Merthyr Tydfil and running activities to engage local communities was an interesting progression for me. This regular, local and flexible work tied in with school hours and fit round my continued freelance work – a real positive!
Small Woods in Wales during lockdown
Lockdown has curtailed provision of woodland activities and put a stop to all of my freelance outdoor work. I am very grateful for the way in which the Small Woods Association has dealt with the current situation, being tolerant of what each of us can do and supporting us in moving our services online. The main way I keep in touch with participants is via the CPAN Facebook page offering simple craft activities, plant identification and foraged recipes. Engagement with posts has dramatically increased since lockdown started. Coed Lleol also now offer a telephone befriending service, weekly interactive online sessions on Zoom, and YouTube videos. Plus, I am about to start running an Agored accredited training module on Observing Flora and Fauna for another of Coed Lleol’s projects in South Wales (Working With Nature). This is a very different environment to the way we’d usually run sessions (sat by the fire in the woods) but this way we can continue to maintain contact, offer woodland skills and access to nature, and welcome new audiences.
Adapting to change for Anna
Since the middle of March I haven’t visited any of the sites that I usually manage due to lockdown, and even earlier for some sites due to flooding. However, I continue to support volunteers who live locally, and some partner organisations. I am also doing lots of local litter picks and have had time to develop a small patch of mixed neglected woodland at the bottom of my garden, bordering the River Tawe. Over the years I have coppiced small sections, planted willow, built treehouses, foraged, and had many campfires. Throughout lockdown this has continued, as well as creating a small mountain bike skills area for my son, more swings, building a pole lathe and lots of swimming in the river. For us as a family it has been an amazing area to both work and play in, and really appreciate where we live.
A new woodland craft business emerges
All of my freelance work for this year has been postponed. It is the first time in years that I have spent so many months in the same place. Normally I would be travelling all over Wales and abroad making the most of outdoor instructing opportunities during spring. These include organising overseas school expeditions, training Duke of Edinburgh expedition leaders and participants, fundraising for London to Paris bike rides, competing in mountain bike events, leading a trek to the Indian Himalayas and living in a tent or my van.
So, during lockdown I have developed a new business, Anna Stickland Weaving. I work for Coed Lleol / Small Woods for two days a week, and weave for several days a week. In September 2018 Coed Lleol / Small Woods kindly paid half of my fees to complete a City and Guilds qualification in basket making based at Westhope College, near Craven Arms. During the year it was a real privilege to learn a craft professionally, going from having only made one frame basket to making 100 by the end of the course. Some are better than others, some from buff willow, some from fresh or hedgerow materials, some stake and strand, some with a Catalan base, some oval, some with bark, some with rush, some with wrapped handles, some using wood, etc. I got a distinction.
Since then I have sold and exhibited at local galleries and craft fayres, taught willow crafts to Coed Lleol / Small Woods participants and planted willow and woven living structures with them. Being creative is really important. It is something people are sometimes scared to fail at but are always enlivened by trying, finding an even deeper creative connection using natural materials and learning traditional skills. I have a new website and Instagram (annasticklandweaving) account, and have worked hard on promoting myself, getting commissions, and doing online craft fairs during lockdown.
Small Woods staff team up
I have also teamed up with Leila Connolly- Standring, my former colleague at Coed Lleol / Small Woods. I have known Leila for years, as we’ve both worked as outdoor instructors for some of the same companies. Last year she was employed as maternity cover for Coed Lleol’s Actif Woods Wales project in Swansea. I ran my first full basket making course with her group last summer, adapting an ‘Exploring traditional crafts’ Agored qualification to run a six-week course. Leila gathered a lovely group together and their enthusiasm really gave me confidence. Now Leila has started her own craft business, Gower Laser Creations and has made handmade leather tags for my baskets, laser engraved business cards and gift vouchers, and prompted me with wonderful ideas. She uses recycled materials when possible.
Seeing things differently
Like me, Leila has had to adapt to reduced outdoor freelance work and find a work-life balance that would allow her to bring in an income, be a mother, maintain her outdoor passions and focus on her wellbeing. She has certainly experienced the positives and negatives of setting up a new business during lockdown – exciting work commissions cancelled, yet more time to develop crafting skills and be in nature with her four year old daughter.
Lockdown has enabled us both to enjoy nature closer to home than before, spend time with family, and develop new craft skills that we may not have had opportunity to do otherwise. What have you learnt or discovered during lockdown?