Jul 13, 2021
In this episode Helene talks to Alex Williams Lead Trainer and
Facilitator for nature-based learning at Muddy Feet.
All Alex and her team’s facilitation is outside, taking groups
of all ages out to urban and rural wild spaces encouraging nature
Helene asks why Alex chooses to work outdoors. This is
largely as the focus of the work is
linking people to their environment. It started when
Alex did Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) in the Philippines
. There all planning and group work was outdoors. She
then returned to do environmental projects in Manchester.
This involved taking communities out to look at, and engage with
their environment and think about how they could improve it.
Helene recalls training before her own VSO, much of which was
about using the natural environment, rather than using things that
were inaccessible to people.
Alex still uses all natural resources such as sticks, leaves
and pebbles, although this can depend on the environment as
sustainability is also important.
They go on to talk about the benefits of facilitating
outdoors. Alex explains the Mental Health benefits -being
outside for 20 mins reduces cortisol, which reduces anxiety and
enables people to connect in a more relaxing way. She finds
that as it’s not a set up environment, they get more from people as
they’re ready to engage and conversation flows.
Helene then asks about the types of facilitation that Alex
does. Alex explains that much of it is around nature
connection - enabling people to connect effectively with their
local environment, and to stop and notice what’s around them.
They also tackle other issues for example working with
children who are disengaged with school to help them to re-engage
with education. They are also about to do a project with Home
Start Volunteers to use nature to strengthen adult/ child
relationships. They also deliver training in Forest School
and outdoor learning including training teachers to take a
facilitator role outdoors when delivering the curriculum.
Alex then explains how they record outputs using a lot of
observations, writing notes and having reflective time after each
session. They also use natural art, for example using natural
resources to make a representation which they can photograph and
She also adapts traditional indoor tools such as the “Jelly
Baby tree” using representations of the Jelly Babies that people
physically put in a tree to show and explain where they are at the
beginning and end of sessions.
She explains that practicalities drive the choice of methods
for example using laminated paper and wipedown whiteboards.
They then go on to discuss how to adapt for the weather: This
includes preparing participants, dressing appropriately, and having
a back up plan for shelter. They also do dynamic risk
assessment and have a weather policy, to consider what conditions
are safe to take groups out.
Helene asks about accessibility. Like indoor
facilitation, this is about knowing the needs of the participants
and how to address them. They take time to identify suitable
sites including those that are wheelchair accessible and do a recce
beforehand with known issues in mind to consider if the site is
In terms of where Alex and her team work, this is a mixture of
public and private spaces. For private sites Alex advises
seeking permission from the landowner and if working in parks and
planning to use natural resources she suggests contacting the
Council or responsible body to let them know you’ll be there and
any possible environmental impact.
Helene then asks about the impact of the pandemic. In
early lockdown, they were prevented from working with groups but
have been busy between lockdowns. As people have become more
aware of outdoor space and things they can do this has led to more
interest in Muddy Feet’s work.
They have still needed to work within guidelines including
reduced numbers and social distancing. Most difficult has been
taking extra water out to allow for handwashing. They have
also needed to ensure bubbles aren’t mixing with the public and
have needed to rethink how they provide food which is an important
part of what they do.
Helene goes on to ask if anybody can facilitate outdoors and
what are Alex’s top tips. She says that anyone can, but to
learn to adapt and build confidence, she suggests going to a
workshop or working with people who are experienced to see how it’s
done. This might include how to put up a shelter outdoors,
make yourself heard, give boundaries, adapt risk assessment
processes, and safely use natural resources. There are skills
to learn but don’t be afraid - start with small steps and smaller
Helene asks about a recommended activity and Alex describes
the “journey stick” which she often uses when people first go out
to help them get familiar with the space and as an icebreaker.
Lots of their activities are similarly open-ended to allow
participants to take activities to where they want to.
She finishes by reflecting that coming out from the pandemic
some people are nervous to go out and that being outdoors can be a
supportive way to take part in a session without a lot of pressure,
so this makes it more relaxed.
Get in touch with Alex: