Mentoring in Green Spaces – Reflections from a Mentor
I’ve been a Health Mentor with Evolve for over a year, and I love the holistic view that we take of children’s health. We include not just physical health, but mental and emotional wellbeing too. One of the most important aspects of physical and mental health, for me, has always been spending time outside in nature.
I grew up on the Malvern Hills, so my childhood memories include wading through streams, building rope swings, rolling down slopes and looking out over the huge expanse of Worcestershire from the top of my own magical mountains.
Not every child is so lucky, and some children will barely go into a green space at all. I was really keen to get involved with the Future Parks project recently, to engage children and families with the many green spaces that are all around us in industrial Birmingham.
My first introduction to mentoring outside was a visit to Cofton Park, which is just down the road from me. I had never been there before, only driven past. The tree nursery, pine woodland and lush open fields definitely opened my eyes to this lovely, surprisingly large park. I was led round by two park rangers, who helped me with the important details such as risk assessments and conducting pre-visits to a site before starting a mentoring session.
Being on the South side of the city, I had never been to Sutton Park, which was where I decided to conduct my first outdoor mentoring session. Following the rangers’ advice, I contacted the Sutton Park rangers to take a tour of the park and conduct a risk assessment. To say I was blown away would be an understatement – everything was fantastically beautiful at the turn of Autumn, with so many habitats and so much wildlife to discover.
My mentee loves horses, so I identified the best spot for finding the Exmoor ponies with the help of the ranger. He told me their history and highlighted the complicated relationship between animals and conservation, especially when animals like the Exmoor pony are introduced or re-introduced into an area. It was fascinating to hear about how the park is managed, how much work goes into it and how varied the ranger’s role is.
Next, it was time to finally take my mentee out into a green space for the first time. They showed me the best way to the park, being local, and I let them navigate. We got lost in a muddy bog, took some new paths together and talked about everything, from life goals to Christmas plans. I felt like they were more chatty than usual, probably relaxed by walking alongside instead of sitting opposite me.
Sadly, we didn’t see any ponies that day. We watched the tufted ducks diving in the lake, and admired the swans. Strangely twisted trees caught my mentee’s eye, and we took pictures. I showed them the fluffy insides of certain grasses, just like my grandfather had shown me. We were both calm, peaceful and spoke freely under the wide, grey sky. At one point, my mentee said, ‘I could stay here forever.’
Walking back, we talked about what plants we had seen, how some were edible, which led on to a conversation about their diet. We agreed how tired we were walking back up the hill, which sparked some ideas for exercise – in fact, we had done over 11,000 steps!
Overall, this was a wonderful new way to engage with my mentee, learn more about Birmingham’s green spaces and reconnect with my own love for nature.
Ellie Wilde, Health Mentor at Evolve: a Social Impact Company