A UK-wide charity which boasts its headquarters in Shropshire is helping people combat isolation through an innovative and inspirational bench-building project.

The 12-week programme is run by the national charity Small Woods Association at its Green Wood Centre headquarters in Coalbrookdale and is available free to unemployed people aged 19 and over who live in Telford & Wrekin and Shropshire.

It helps participants learn fresh skills, build confidence and meet new people while receiving the necessary support towards their goals of getting back into employment, undertaking further training or wanting to get involved in volunteering.

The project is one of the Small Woods Association’s Social Forestry initiatives which is helping to reduce social isolation and improve health and wellbeing through the benefits of working with nature.

The Build-a-Bench course is part of the Building Better Opportunities Shropshire project and is funded by the European Social Fund and National Lottery Community Fund and managed by Shropshire-based employment and training charity Landau.

Treasa Reilly, Small Woods Association engagement officer, said: “The Build-a-Bench programme has been hugely successful with people suffering from isolation and is having a positive impact on the mental health of those taking part.

“It is also providing them with the opportunities to realise their hopes and dreams of getting back into employment, to follow a path of volunteering if they so wish, or give them the confidence to seek out further training to reach desired objectives.

“Participants attend the Green Wood Centre one day a week for 12 weeks and learn about the different woods, how to make small wooden tools, the art of spoon carving and how to design and build a stool.

“As they progress through the programme, they will move on to designing and building a bench which will be donated to a charity of the group’s choice on completion.

“It’s always amazing to follow the group’s journey over the 12 weeks and to see their confidence and self-esteem grow. The skills they develop during the course mean participants are better able to achieve their life choice goals.”

One participant of the programme, known as S, was referred by the Mental Health Team in Telford. She felt she was not ready to look for work, her confidence was low and she suffered from arthritis, Fibromyalgia, anxiety and depression – affecting her ability to work or seek employment.

S said: “The Build-a-Bench project motivated me and helped me recognise that I have skills and experience that can be of value to other people. The team also supported me to conquer my anxiety and helped me meet new people.

“They recommended jobs I could actually do, believed in me and this built my confidence. With this encouragement, I attended an interview and was successful. The setting is so tranquil and the staff are super friendly and encouraging. I would recommend the course to anyone struggling to get back into work or suffering with low esteem and anxiety.”

Sonia Roberts, Chief Executive of Landau, said: “The Building Better Opportunities Shropshire programme was launched by Landau in 2017. Its primary focus is to tackle unemployment and economic activity, a problem that affects nearly 13,000 people in Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin.

“We’re delighted that the Build-a-Bench project is supporting individuals to gain the confidence to pursue work prospects and engage in meaningful employment.”

For more information about the Small Woods Build-a-Bench programme, visit https://www.smallwoods.org.uk/en/what-we-do/projects/build-a-bench/

Pictured: L-R Teresa Bailey, Build a Bench course tutor at Small Woods with a course participant.