The Fathom Trust – health and healing through Green crafts

Back in 2020 Jess Tanner worked for Brecon & District Mind as an Ecotherapist leading the Green Minds Ecotherapy Project. Jess now works for the Powys charity The Fathom Trust as an Ecotherapist and Community Gardener.

We spoke to Jess to find out more about The Fathom Trust, and how coming together as a community to craft and connect with nature can enrich lives.

Jess Tanner, Ecotherapist

What is your role with The Fathom Trust?

I lead the six week “Making Well – Health & Healing through Green Crafts” course at The Fathom Trust. Located in Bwlch, Making Well runs four times a year and is centred around the kitchen and cut flower gardens and outdoor craft workshops. We work alongside a local, visiting craft practitioner on every course.

Crafts taught at Making Well have included willow weaving, horticulture, pottery, green woodwork and cob building. Our sessions are rooted in the seasons and our craft practice is very much guided by nature and the growing gardens that surround us.

We’re currently working to build stronger referral partnerships through our local GP surgeries, Brecon & District Mind as well as Credu, who we are welcoming to Making Well for the first time this summer for series of day-long craft and nature-connection workshops. We welcome referrals from mental health teams in the community, and self-referrals are also welcome if people feel the course will benefit them.

Tell us more about The Fathom Trust 

The charity, which is based between Brecon and Crickhowell in south Powys, was founded three years ago by Dr William Beharrell, formerly a trainee psychiatrist and NHS Manager, with an interest in health innovation. Its mission is “to promote physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing using traditional crafts to restore life-giving connections to body, soul, nature and society.” It has lots of new projects developing.

Craftsmanship, Conservation and Contemplation – how do these three aspects work together to support healing?

It’s about tending and coming into relationship with all three of these aspects – how we tend to ourselves, others and the landscape around us. By working with our hands; with willow, wood and earth, and through gentle mindfulness and movement practices we come into a practice of noticing ourselves and the world around us. At Making Well we hold nurturing and healing spaces in which to come together as a community to share our individual and collective experience.

How can The Fathom Trust support people who are struggling with their mental health?

We support participants to improve their current health and wellbeing by cultivating skills, friendships and a deeper connection to nature. Our team of experienced practitioners provide a nurturing space for groups to come together, and are on hand to offer the compassion and guidance needed to meet people at their own pace. Our practitioners come from a diversity of backgrounds within wellbeing and craft-making and there is a real sense of collaboration within each Making Well course.

We offer a taster day ahead of each course which gives people chance to meet the team and each other and get a sense of whether the course is something they’d like to take part in. We feel that the taster days are a really important aspect of the course and help people to see what might be possible for them and what they might be able to achieve over the 6 weeks, especially after any long periods of ill health or feelings of isolation. If throughout the day participants find taking part in the group activities a challenge, we have a therapeutic practitioner at Making Well that is able to offer 1-1 walk and talks if needed. Each Making Well course is a closed group which we find helps build a stronger sense of community over a short period of time, and provides a fertile space in which to develop new skills and meaningful friendships.

What happens on the course?

Each session follows the same rhythm of coming together for a morning grounding and contemplative nature-connection practice, followed by small group morning and afternoon craft sessions. Halfway through our day we stop for a seasonal, nutritious lunch which is cooked onsite in our outdoor kitchen. We also weave in time throughout the day for time to reflect and share in our different experiences of crafting and being in nature.

Welcoming new craft practitioners keeps our work growing and evolving. It’s great to be able to come into contact with so many different natural materials which often bring about a different set of experiences for those taking part. There are different challenges and moments of insight that can be discovered within each material and craft-making process.

Can 6 weeks make a big difference?

From my own experience of the healing and restorative potential held within nature, and from the privilege I have of guiding and witnessing others through their own experience throughout the 6 weeks, I do believe so. I am reminded of a Mary Oliver poem “When I am Among the Trees” and the constant source of reconnection and sense of belonging that she speaks of that is never too distant, and that through a slow crafting of tending to each moment within us and around us, we can begin to see and experience life in new ways.

We are in the process of creating a new digital story bank at Fathom with the intention of weaving together the many and diverse experiences of the way participants have valued their time at Making Well. Once these are published we will be able to draw upon a much wider range of the depth of experience each course can offer. It’s really important for us to keep growing and to know that what we offer here is always in service to our community and to the landscapes we inhabit, so these story sharing opportunities are vital for our continued practice of being able to respond to, and be malleable, within times of change and uncertainty that many of us are constantly adapting to.

Although everything that we offer at Making Well is invitational, it is through participation that we can experience the most benefit, so we encourage and support everyone to take part wherever they can. We don’t see Making Well as an isolated experience and we hold and nurture a space together as a community over the 6 weeks that might help to cultivate new ways of thinking, feeling, and experiencing that we hope will offer little seeds that people will continue to tend to. Tending is a big theme of what we cultivate – tending to the garden, one another and ourselves and the realisation that we are all part of this world. We all share similar stories around our struggles, our fears and feelings of isolation. At Making Well we create a space to share and support one another, and that can offer a huge sense of relief and respite to those that join us.

What impact does this course have on participants?

There is some really interesting evaluation work that has been done on this by the Wales School of Social Prescribing Research in conjunction with several universities. You can read more on our website here.

Heather Dickens, willow weaver

How can people and communities contribute and benefit from The Fathom Trust?

The Trust is trying to grow wellbeing and craft hubs – and also to grow the network of landowners and practitioners taking part across Powys. We have a Crafters’ Café at Brecon Cathedral which is part of Making Well – it’s a drop-in craft café in the Tithe Barn every Tuesday within term time run by Heather Dickens our willow weaver.

The Trust is also looking for other sites to set up more Making Well programmes – with a vision to link each cluster of GP surgeries to a 6 week course, so that the referrals are held much more within our local communities. Currently some people travel from a fair distance and we want to limit that where we can within Powys.

Long-term, funding permitting, we hope Making Well courses will pop up throughout the county. They might be shaped a little differently according to the surrounding landscapes and local need, but each will be anchored in our approach to craft, conservation and contemplation.

Which other organisations are you working with this summer?

We’re also working with Credu (Connecting Carers) over the summer holidays for the first time offering sessions for young and adult carers’ groups.

What are the main challenges of your role?

It’s getting the message out there and reaching people, it takes time but we are starting to build momentum as we strengthen our local partnerships. 

By working outdoors, we also work with the changing weather and terrain, we want Making Well to be as accessible to as many people as possible, so we are constantly looking at ways that we can adapt our offer to suit everyone’s mental and physical strengths and limitations.

We will be inviting professionals to come and join us for an open day to see how Making Well can support those they are supporting. Some of the PAVO Community Connectors have taken part so can then speak about it which is especially useful for those referring in. That’s worked out to be a very natural partnership that we hope to keep growing.

What do you get out of working for The Fathom Trust?

So much. I am always reminded how important it is to come together as a community and how much we all need that and the space to come and share and express who we are in a supportive environment. I get huge joy in sharing the many nature-connection activities we offer, gardening together in groups, skill sharing, and holding space for people – it feels a real honour to do that. Also seeing the difference in people from a taster day to the end of the course is wonderful and the ways that people slowly unfurl themselves and open out to the world around them as the course goes on.

It’s such a joy to see how participants on Making Well make each invitation to explore nature and craft-making their own, and take time to tune into nature and themselves in ways they might not have done or had the time to do so before. It’s just a great privilege to see the growth that can happen over such a short period of time and the friendships that blossom and how people begin to trust in their own capacity for becoming and being well. We work with the natural world to create a rhythm and a nurturing environment for people to come into, but it’s always about the unique constellation of participants that join us that make each course the healing and regenerative experience it becomes.

When you are not working for The Fathom Trust, how do you enjoy spending your time?

I love to potter, grow and make things. I like to write songs and take long walks with my hammock. In the garden, or under the night’s sky, is where I find my sense of sanctuary.

If you want to find out more about The Fathom Trust, 
you can contact Jess by emailing:
The next Making Well session starts with a taster day on 14 September. 
You can sign up on the online referral form here.

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