Walk this way


Alison O’Connor established Tinder Sticks in 2018 to encourage people to connect with nature. Here, the former Epping Forest Keeper explains why the project’s guided walks in Wanstead Park are so much more than just a walk in the woods

I live, love and worked in Epping Forest, spending five years as a Forest Keeper on Wanstead Flats and Wanstead Park from 2003 to 2007. That part of the Forest will always hold a special place in my heart, so when I heard of the opportunity to share my passion for it, I jumped at the chance!

Four years ago, I set up Tinder Sticks, a social enterprise dedicated to getting people outdoor confident. We do this through nature connection and bushcraft activities, which we provide for children, families and adults in Epping Forest, Hainault Forest and at Eastbrookend Country Park in Dagenham.

We are committed to breaking down the socio-economic barriers stopping people from accessing and enjoying the outdoors, and as a Community Interest Company, we can apply for funding to ensure everybody has access to our events. We strive to make a percentage of all of our events free or partially funded for individuals and families on a low income.

In March, we were awarded funding from The City Bridge Trust to improve access to Epping Forest, and in April, launched ‘A Walk in the Woods’. Our project runs from April to November and is made up of monthly events at three key sites in Epping Forest: Wanstead Park, Hollow Ponds and Highams Park Lake. Running on Tuesday mornings at 10am, these free events are for adults. We walk, explore and discover new parts of the Forest. But we also deliver nature-connection workshops, such as wild flower drawing, mindfulness and bushcraft activities, including foraging, campfire cooking, whittling and even making string and jewellery from plants and trees.

Being outdoors in nature has been proven to reduce stress levels and increase feelings of positivity. Now, evidence from the Mental Health Foundation shows us that the quality of our relationship with nature is part of the reason for its positive impact on our well-being. Often referred to as connectedness, a stronger connection with nature means we have a stronger emotional attachment to our surroundings and the mental well-being benefits increase. ‘A Walk in the Woods’ does just that; it provides a deeper, stronger connection with nature along with showing you how to use the natural environment to thrive (not just survive) through the bushcraft activities. These hands-on activities will make you focus on the here and now, taking you away from the stresses and strains of daily life at home or work, and are known to particularly help people suffering from anxiety and depression.

So, you see, these events are actually so much more than a walk in the woods! If you would like to join us, please sign up for free. At our next event on 14 June (10am), we’ll be hosting a discovery walk, looking for animal signs and learning about the trees and plants in Wanstead Park. Then, on 5 July, we’ll be looking at the different plants and trees that can be used to make string and jewellery. And on 6 September, we’ll be spotting signs of autumn as we walk to Bushwood and back.

I hope to see you on one of the walks soon. And if you are part of a community group that may benefit from ‘A Walk in the Woods’, get in touch and I can arrange an event just for you.

For more information and to register for the walks, visit wnstd.com/tindersticks