Fearless play in Reading’s Wild West

The West Reading community and its surrounding natural spaces is extremely dynamic. But thirty-eight per cent of children live in poverty compared to nineteen per cent across the rest of England, while at the same time living amongst abundant and beautiful natural spaces.

Spending time in these green spaces has the potential to improve physical and mental health and community cohesion, yet these areas are mostly overlooked and underused. Families told us they wanted to be outside more, but they feared going into these spaces due to things like litter, dogs, and perceived “stranger danger”.

If we don’t connect with nature by the time we’re twelve years old... we’re unlikely to. We need to reach them young.

Dr. William Bird

Our vision with the Wild West Project alongside our team of enthusiastic and highly experienced Forest School Practitioners, was to empower local children and their families to access the nature on their doorstep through wild play and conservation activities.

We are passionate about investing time with families at a grassroots level and empowering local residents to lead their own community initiatives to bring about longer term wellbeing for a resilient community.

With the generous help of the People’s Health Trust, we were able to create a rich programme of intentional nature experiences for the children and families of West Reading.

We ran monthly Wild Child Adventure Clubs where people explored their local woods with games, crafts and conservation activities. Everything from pond dipping for newts to building campfires for lunch together. The group even learnt to coppice plants growing in the woods and use the materials for shelter and bridge building together.

I like having a safe place to enjoy the outdoors, learning about nature in a fun way. Climbing trees and swinging in the hammock.

A startling 75% of those who took part told us that they had forged positive connections with others in the community, expanding their own social network. The same number felt more confident and empowered to take a lead themselves in shaping the community.

The project increases a sense of community, I even got over some of my fears about meeting new people and now I’ve got to know new people.

Regular Family Wild Days offered nature inspired activities for the whole community, creating a continuity of regular contact with families. Peter who lives on the estate and brings his children to our Wild Child Club told us “We feel our thoughts and ideas are taken on board. My girls now have new friends and they are so proud of their involvement, they tell all their friends about what they’ve done to conserve the local woodland".

It’s just great to see local children interacting.