As part of the work on the restoration of Ironbridge's withy bed, a project which is being led by Severn Gorge Community Trust, and is funded by the Green Communities Grant from Bupa Foundation and Groundwork, I'm delivering a series of free willow weaving workshops designed to support the mental wellbeing of the local community.
Basketry was first used as a therapeutic craft during the First World War for men who had been injured - especially those with brain injuries and loss of vision. It became so widely used by clinicians as a way of supporting the rehabilitiation of patients that basketry became almost synoymous with the development of the profession of occupational therapy. The main reason for its popularity was the lack of specialist tools required, the low cost and easy accessibility of materials, and the ability to adapt the activity to a variety of patient needs.
"no other craft will be so useful as basketry" - Louis J. Haas (1922)
Whilst understandings and treatment of mental health and wellbeing has come a long way in the past hundred years, the therapeutic benefits of basketry remain as relevant today as they did during the First World War.
As someone who has experienced mental health issues myself, I know how much basketry can help. There's something about the repetitive movements and patterns that absorb your concentration; the physicality of the craft and the use of your entire body; and the satisfaction of seeing the weave build and build before your eyes.
Its one of my favourite things about running workshops - seeing these benefits ripple around the room, and the smiling relaxed faces of everyone at the end of the session.
In the new year, we'll be getting started on the restoration of the withy bed in Ironbridge. I'll be leading a series of workshops in willow bed management, and we'll also be creating a living willow sculpture on site together. If you'd like to find out more and get involved in the project, get in touch with Severn Gorge Countryside Trust.