The heritage project that helped me tackle my loneliness
For a middle-aged man to close his business, sell his house and move to an area he barely knows might seem madness.
We had to relocate for my wife's work, which meant a new start in a totally new place.
Swapping a large house with sea views for a rented flat in a fume-filled, noisy and intimidating part of town where you know no one would test anyone's mental robustness.
The local park, the Rye, very quickly became my salvation. It became my daily habitat, one in which nature helped ease my loneliness and despair.
Joining the community
It was on one of these days on the Rye I saw an advert for Chiltern Rangers' Green Thursdays community group. The Chiltern Rangers are part of the massive Heritage Fund-supported conservation project in the area.
Keen not to wait a whole week, I joined the rangers the following day, and then the next.
It was another month before I summoned the courage to email them, and they replied straight away. The invitation to join them was warm and sincere, and so, on that first Thursday in November, I ended up in Castlefield Wood coppicing hazel – a task where you cut back the tree to help it grow again.
I found I had joined many other like-minded people keen to get outside and help to look after the many wild spaces around the town. Keen not to wait a whole week to experience this again, I joined the rangers the following day, and then the next.
A new view on life
I had been a gardener for 20 years so the work was easy for me. But I learned a lot – the enthusiastic rangers were only too willing to share their knowledge. I also became an avid listener – it was amazing to hear volunteers of all ages and backgrounds tell their life stories and explain how they had got involved.
I also started appreciating the High Wycombe area in a way that was closed to me before. Knowing there was an organisation that looked after, nurtured and loved these often scrubby, wild hillsides has made me see the urban environment in a different way.
Giving away nearly a month of my time was one of the most enriching and liberating things I have ever done.
I now knew there were wildlife reserves all over the town, flourishing between the areas of housing. I discovered that the work to look after them continues through the seasons and over the years in a wonderful rhythm and cycle.
During this tough time without a job, I volunteered twice a week with the group for four months. I learned hedge-laying and became a certified First Aider. I was inspired by the Chiltern Rangers' passion and expertise in nurturing healthy woodland and habitats.
Giving away nearly a month of my time was one of the most enriching and liberating things I have ever done. I am hoping to embark on a new role as a head gardener, but most important to me is that I made friends, and had a joy and purpose in this new area. I take the group's ethos and values with me every day.