Hope for a Sustainable Future: My thoughts on Nature and Dandelion Time during lockdown

Our therapeutic approach is embedded in nature with a range of activities that engage children’s head, heart and hands

Written by Anna Chilton, Global Sustainability Manager, Camellia PLC

It’s a beautiful Spring day, blue skies and we are in lockdown. Not having a garden limits me to one, precious hour with this season, yet we have never needed spring’s hopeful eagerness more. Next to where I live, Greenwich Park seems to have a new sense of community. There is a near constant flow of couples walking – how many of them are out for their first walk in years, I wonder? Although we maintain our distance, we come up for sunlight and air together, driven by the same current that bonds us with nature. Windows around the world remind us that there is a rainbow to every cloud.

How do we discover our love for the ocean or mountains or early-morning sunlight? According to researchers, psychologists and Grandmas the world over, we develop our most powerful intentions in childhood. Apparently, our greatest successes are born from those emotion-filled and lively imaginings, such as wanting to fly or loving everything in view in a kitchen cupboard (my nephew). I often wonder, with a pang, what this means for generations of us growing up with iPads instead of trees. Will the new eco-conscious curriculum and social-media personalities be enough to secure a commitment to protect the natural world around us?

My love for nature started early, thanks to my father who was constantly dreaming up new green energy technology and yanking us up mountains in unexpected regions such as Uzbekistan. Growing up, the importance of spending time outdoors was encouraged, and we often slept with windows open, even when it was snowing outside. My grandmother was an avid gardener, growing most of her own vegetables, fruits and flowers. Her devotion to the natural world gave her a glow so stunning, that sometimes when I see old photographs from that time, there is barely a trace of her age beyond that sparkle. The joy of living what you love. When she stopped longing for her garden and forest around it, I knew her heart was closing its doors.

Nature’s constant movement offers a kind of certainty that we are craving in these uncertain times – the grass keeps growing and flowers continue to bloom

We come across people who challenge and captivate us forever. These relationships teach us to keep our hearts open for treasure, as we anticipate meeting greatness again. Throughout my life, I’ve stumbled upon and sought out great mentors. Some, I have begged for advice, others offered it by smashing my ego aside and others simply by being and silently showing the way. In a similar way, since early childhood, nature taught me the sacred lesson of constant growth.

Some years ago, I was involved in a major bike accident. In that period of my life, I was becoming the self-absorbed, young woman of privileged times – obsessed with trivialities and my self-concept. At the scene of the accident I had a revelation which changed the course of my life. As soon as I was out of the hospital I searched for words to describe what I was starting to understand was a calling. Years ago, sustainability was not part of our culture the way it is today. It took some searching to get to “sustainability” and to discover that only one university in the world offered an education in it. Today, as the world of sustainability reveals itself like an idea that’s been stuck in the back of our collective mind, I’m grateful to have been knocked conscious then.

A good friend introduced me to Dr Caroline Jessel a couple of years ago and I was instantly inspired by her and her charity, Dandelion Time. I read somewhere that an organisation is a reflection of the inner state of its leader. Caroline lives and breathes the mission of nature conservation and her years of practice as a GP merge compassion with a cool head when it comes to helping others.

Dandelion Time’s Residential Volunteers helping with a Pottery Session

The first time I came to Dandelion Time, I remember thinking, this is the kind of building that you know is filled with love before you walk in the door. A line of wellies of all sizes by the door, toast and cups of tea in the kitchen. All of the food is vegetarian and most of it directly from the garden, where children learn about growing lettuces and pull carrots out of the ground, when it’s time. Caroline showed me the small stable, animals and the wood workshop.

I learned that German school leavers volunteer at Dandelion Time for a year as part of a residential exchange programme. These young adults cook, clean and support the families in more informal activities, throughout the week. In the upstairs offices, a team of dedicated experts work to help ensure this all has a future. I have been volunteering for over a year now, gladly sharing my corporate sustainability perspective and marketing background with the team. I’ve never participated in more inclusive meetings in my life.

When I speak about Dandelion Time, I always mention that what makes this Charity unique is that it harnesses the healing power of family, community and the world beyond our four walls. Every element which helps families reach the possibility of a better future is harnessed, with kindness and respect for those gifts. The charity recycles and reuses waste, conserves energy and is involved in community projects which empower the world beyond to become more attuned to the vulnerable and to take climate action.

Therapists guide families to harness the healing powers of the natural world by growing and eating healthy food

In an early conversation with Graham Carpenter, CEO at Dandelion Time, I was struck by a story of a child who’s traumatic memories were slowly softened by new memories of walks in the garden with members of the therapeutic team.  Graham has spent much time researching the beneficial impacts of spending time in nature, as a way of bringing hope for a better life and making connections with our own behaviours and instincts. Through activities in nature and though using the hands for creative work the Dandelion method offers a brighter future for traumatised children and their families. Many recent studies indicate that nature has a healing effect on all of us. Dandelion Time is pioneering research and new approaches to contribute to this critical body of knowledge. In good and troubled times, we all need the hopeful eagerness of Spring.