Outdoor play advocate Heidi Franklin has been so inspired by the Suffolk woodland where she works that it has provided the backdrop for the first in a series of children’s books. Here she explains what makes it so special and how her books aim to help with emotional development
Who are you and what do you do?
I am Heidi Franklin. Co-Founder and Director of Wild Play Ltd and Suffolk Outdoors Ltd. Previously I was a teacher and Headteacher, with 20-plus years educational experience. I am now also a children’s author, with my first book just launched.
How is Wild Play going?
Wild Play is going well. Like so many other small businesses, we experienced the most challenging times during the pandemic. Unfortunately, we were not eligible for Government support because we work outdoors and do not pay business rates on premises. This meant that our losses were significant, and we are continuing to go through that recovery period. It’s going to take time, but the uptake on our sessions is great and we consistently remain positive. We are always so truly grateful to everyone who supports our small business. We are incredibly passionate about what we do and how we help our participants, of all ages, to reap the benefits of spending time outdoors. We hope to encourage more corporates to join us next year as there is still a huge need to support the workforce with employee wellness.
When did you decide to add author to your repertoire?
Writing a book is something I have always wanted to do. It has been simmering away on the back burner for the past six months or so. I deliberately chose not to put myself under any time pressure and decided to develop this project in an organic way.
The challenges for children, brought about during the pandemic, prompted me to acknowledge that now was the right time to document some of the experiences that we have witnessed through Wild Play – before, during and as we now hope to move out of the pandemic.
What is your first book about?
My first book is titled ‘Gordon’s Favourite Place’ and is an introduction to Gordon and his best friend Herbert. Gordon really likes to be outdoors, spending time in his favourite place: the woodland. In this first story we get to see different parts of the woodland some meet some of Gordon’s friends.
How many more books are in you, do you think?
I have drafted content for six or seven stories, all of which build on nurturing skills of empathy, kindness, perseverance and resilience, feelings, and emotions. I very much hope to be able to complete the series and reach out to as many children and families as possible.
What is it about the Suffolk woodland that is so special and inspirational?
Everything in my stories is based on real events that have happened through Wild Play. All of the illustrations are real, selecting some of the unique, key features of the woodland where we are based. Through Wild Play, we have worked with hundreds of children over the past four years. The combination of our Forest School leadership and educational experience has enabled us to support and nurture children through a wide range of social, emotional and wellbeing challenges.
The pandemic has been such a difficult time for children and families. Babies and children were unable to interact with peers of similar age. Unable to gain those early milestone experiences due to being in lock down. Leaving parents for the first time after lockdown raised lots of experiences of anxiety…the list goes on. There has never been a more important time to support families with approaching some of these emotions that children experience.
The woodland is a truly beautiful setting, and I am thrilled to bring some of the magic alive through the stunning illustrations in my books. I have been so fortunate to have discovered the most amazing illustrator, Jade Bartolf, who has brought her little boy to Wild Play Muddy Hogs sessions. She has experienced the woodland for herself and seen the impact of our sessions for her son. She is incredibly talented, and it is a pleasure to work with her.
So how DO you ‘juggle it all and keep it real’?!
Ha ha, the struggle is real, but I am keen to maintain a balance and help other women in similar situations to do the same. I feel passionately about the need to always look for the positives in every day. Even when we’re having a rough time of it, there is always something to feel grateful for and we must never lose sight of that. Some of the most difficult situations that we face teach us the most. I try to deal with one thing at a time, whilst spinning all the plates of being a busy mum, entrepreneur and now author too! Chocolate and Prosecco also help, I find!