Blossom Programme helping Domestic Abuse survivors to turn their lives around
Two survivors of domestic abuse have told how spending time in nature has helped them to turn their lives around.
The ten-week Blossom Programme supports women and children to connect with the outdoors to positively change their lives and improve their wellbeing.
The Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex (PFCC), Roger Hirst, contributed £14,820 to the Wilderness Foundation in the form of a crime and disorder reduction grant from the 2019-2020 Community Safety Development Fund to cover the cost of research and the resulting Blossom Programme. The funding was to support the PFCC’s drive to support victims of domestic abuse and help them to cope and recover from trauma.
Carla* from Chelmsford was in an abusive relationship for more than four years.
Her partner hacked into and cloned her devices, poisoned her pet and made threats to have her gang raped and killed.
She said her life became so far from what she had planned, she thought the only explanation was that “I must have died along the way and gone to hell”.
“It crept up on me,” Carla said. “At first, he was very charming. He sold me the dream of what our relationship would be. Once I was hooked in, it became very different. The dream became a nightmare.
“During lockdown, I was living with him full-time and so discovered the full extent of what he was doing. He had cameras on me and was monitoring and controlling every aspect of my life. I had no privacy or control over anything.”
Having escaped the relationship, Carla was introduced to the Blossom Programme. Every week, she would meet with other women and share her story around a campfire, while learning about trauma and taking part in group activities.
She said: “Blossom provided me with a supportive environment where I could go and meet with women who had been through similar things. It was a safe space where I could gather my thoughts.
“It was about surviving in the wild, reconnecting with your own power. In a relationship like mine, that is what is taken away from you. Anything I could have done for myself had been robbed from me; it messed with my ability to do things.
“There was something about being in the outdoors, by being surrounded by nature, that had a real calming effect. Something died in my relationship and I felt broken. But, being outside I not only saw plants that had died, I saw new growth coming through. That represented something to me – yes, something had died, but something new was coming through. That was a really big thing for me and gave me hope.
“I do not know what I would be doing now without the programme. I think I would have had a full breakdown and ended up in hospital. It was a real lifesaver.”
For Cathy*, realising she had allowed people to mistreat her her whole life was the key to making positive changes.
Having suffered mental and physical abuse at the hands of her siblings since childhood, Cathy from Chelmsford had been on the brink of suicide more than once in her life.
When her beloved mother died, she felt alone in the world surrounded by people who should care for her, but instead hurt her.
Cathy said: “All of the trauma I had suffered since I was young came to the forefront. So much of it I had locked away and never told anyone about as I never wanted my mum to feel any pain.”
Having turned to a counsellor at Next Chapter for support, she was referred to the Blossom Programme.
“As I walked towards the firepit on the first day of the Blossom Programme, everything completely lifted,” said Cathy. “I instantly felt that nobody would judge how I felt or if I cried. It was a very safe space. The way I was spoken to was so nurturing, I felt like I was running into open arms.
“One of the ladies was in tears and said she did not know how she had got there that morning. We all said we felt the same and then there were more tears all round. Everyone said they felt safer than they had done for a long time.
“I looked at why I had always allowed people to treat me in a bad way. I always let people do whatever they wanted. I realised it had impacted my whole life as I never expected any respect from anyone.”
Now, having made lifelong friends and learned the tools to help her to cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, she feels positive about her future.
She said: “As a result of the programme, I have made massive changes in my life. If I’m feeling low, I now have the tools to walk through it. I go for a walk in the woods; I breathe properly. I think about my problem for as long as it needs thinking about – and then I carry on with my day. Just thinking about those women around that campfire gets me through a hell of a lot.
“The programme is incredible. It has saved my life, without a doubt.”
*Names have been changed.
About the Wilderness Foundation
The Wilderness Foundation works with thousands of adults and young people each year, connecting vulnerable people with nature to positively change their lives and improve their wellbeing.
Activities such as practical conservation, biodiversity, sustainable food growth and fighting climate change sit alongside wilderness therapy to educate and engage participants as they learn coping strategies and build resilience.
The Blossom Programme offered therapists to help deal with trauma and addiction, as well as teaching outdoor cooking, camp craft and outdoor volunteering such as tree planting.
Participants were also given guidance on money management, employability training, resilience training and first aid.
The work formed part of a piece of research by the University of Essex as the organisation moves towards offering regular intervention for those experiencing domestic violence.
“We wanted to put together a really in-depth, well thought out, well planned and well researched programme looking after this vulnerable group of people,” said CEO Jo Roberts. “Domestic abuse has gone up 40 per cent during Covid-19, so this programme came at a critical time.
“We could never have done this without the funding from the PFCC. We can offer unbelievable work, but not without that funding. It has meant we could do important work that we knew was needed.”
Find out more about the project here: The Blossom Project – tackling domestic violence through nature (wildernessfoundation.org.uk)