I came across the Tomorrow’s Natural Leaders (TNL) project while working a dreary retail job in the midst of an inevitable post-university ‘what-the-hell-am-I-doing-with-my-life’ crisis. In hindsight I know my application was submitted out of sheer desperation for change. Days spent folding t-shirts into perfect piles of squares and feigning smiles until my face hurt had left me believing it was a cruel myth that any twenty-something could find a job that genuinely felt rewarding.
I’d graduated from a good university with an average degree. This was following three messy years under the thumb of depression and anxiety, which threw my education on the back burner while I struggled to manoeuvre around everyday life. Unsurprisingly, the TNL project felt like a breath of fresh air. It offered a rare and unlikely opportunity for me, something worlds away from anything I’d known previously in stuffy academia or the unforgiving rush of city life. It was a chance not only for a change of scenery, but an opportunity to surround myself with a reliable happiness I’d known since childhood, when nature had been a place of solace and comfort.
Having graduated with a degree in English Literature, I entered the project with a very different outlook to those who took more conventional career routes. My non-scientific, non-environmental background paired with an embarrassingly poor knowledge of UK wildlife meant my introduction to conservation wasn’t exactly seamless. But while my progress throughout the TNL project was steady, it was rewarding. I experienced the same self-doubt as ever, each struggle I encountered had its silver linings. Trudging through mud and sleet on our way to a reserve or cutting down scrubland under showers of rain wasn’t just cold and tiring, it was refreshing and somehow life-affirming. Early winter mornings were still bleary eyed and grumpy, but they held precious moments that I couldn’t have imagined during my morning commutes just one year before; glimpses of a Roe deer scurrying through hedgerows, or the flash of a kingfisher diving into a river.
I’ve always known nature to be something emotive and inclusive, something to feel as well as understand, and through my time in the TNL project I wanted to share this approach with others. Working alongside my friend Helen, we sought to emphasise just how crucial nature can be in aiding mental wellbeing and tried to highlight the intrinsic value of a personal, emotional connection to the world around us. In a campaign that emphasised the importance of nature for wellbeing, we undertook steps to connect NHS surgeries and therapy centres with green activity and promote ecotherapy as both preventative and prescriptive in dealing with mental ill health.
The project led me back to the same doctor’s surgeries and therapy programmes I found myself stumbling into as an anxious young teenager in search of support.
Funnily enough, the project led me back to the same doctor’s surgeries and therapy programmes I found myself stumbling into as an anxious young teenager in search of support. Now years later, though still anxious and young, I look back on the steps I’ve been able to take this year with a sense of accomplishment. My year had been a steep learning curve, and while I’m proud of the resilience I built to cold winter mornings, and of my progress from hopeless beginner to burgeoning naturalist, what Yorkshire Wildlife Trust has given me most of all, cliched though it may sound, is a sense of conviction in my own voice, and a belief in my own abilities. Happily, the TNL project turned out not to be an escape hatch but something through which I rediscovered the self-assurance and confidence I needed.