If you go down to the woods today you are sure of some exercise

In a world where exercise and fresh air are seemingly out of fashion one group of volunteers is bucking the trend.

This month I joined two dozen of them, marshalled by two wardens, in helping to create a footpath down a treacherous mud path in the heart of Owlbeech Wood, just east of Horsham.

JPCT 12-006-12 S12241778X Horsham Green Gym Owlbeech Woods.  -photo by Steve Cobb

JPCT 12-006-12 S12241778X Horsham Green Gym Owlbeech Woods. -photo by Steve Cobb

This is of course Horsham Green Gym, a voluntary organisation that helps the three full-time staff covering Owlbeech and Leechpool Woods, sites in Warnham and Southwater, Sandgate Park and Chesworth Farm.

I’m part of the cabal of people at the top of the hill tasked with shifting six tonnes of crushed concrete to the bottom of the hill to fill the pathways.

I am aided by Chris Manning, from Ifield, Mark Tidey and Alex Kington, both from Barns Green, who are helping me shovel it into wheelbarrows.

Like many young people Alex is unemployed and struggling to find work after studying agriculture and conservation at Brinsbury College.

While he is trying to find work, the Green Gym allows him to do some conservation work and keep busy.

Alex said: “I like getting exercise, feeling good and meeting new people all at the same time.”

The group is led by two wardens, Tom Simpson, and his deputy for the day Ryan Allison, from Horsham, who is studying countryside management at Brighton University, wardening at the same time for Horsham District Council.

Dick Simmonds, who runs the Tuesday groups and has been involved with the scheme for about three years, tells me a story about a young woman who said her enjoyment of the weekly sessions were making her reticent to go out and find work.

He laughs at this.

He said: “The joy of doing something and meeting other people is what a lot of people come along for.”

“We’re all from a reasonably diverse set of background, with some unemployed and people with brain injuries from the clinic in Slinfold, who are able to get out and do something with other people.”

One of these I meet as we stop for tea and biscuits.

Paul and Pippa Martin, a couple from Loxwood, tell me about their two sons at University, and how they ended up with the group.

Two years before Paul was involved in a motorcycling accident, which he has no memory of, leaving him hospitalised and with serious brain injuries.

Released from hospital this March, the Green Gym is giving him a chance to aid his slow recovery.

Paul said: “We were surprised at the scale of the tasks. They really are massive.

“I like everyone is mucking in, doing their job and finding what they can do. It’s a really great thing where people can find their own level.

“That’s the important thing, that feeling a purpose in what I’m doing, because that sense of importance is fundamental.

“You can only do so much in your own garden. I can create jobs for myself, but it’s not the same.”

I trudge across the stream and onto the main stretch of pathway, where they are digging out the main path.

I arrive just at a moment of crisis where they have lost the stick to measure the width of the pathway, but minutes later it is located and order is restored.

A pair of women working at the business end of the site, where the ground is flat and boggy after historic amounts of rainfall the day before, tell me about the history of the site and why the work to improve it is so important.

Beryl Dold, from Roffey, explained: “It’s a not been properly looked after for donkeys years, and if you ventured out you’d get up to your armpits in mud.”

Joan Brines, from Roffey’s Lambs Farm Road, said: “It’s nice how we’re making the woods more accessible for other people.

“We’re lucky to have woods here, and I like coming to the countryside, so it’s really about giving something back to it.”

The group runs sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays. For the Tuesday group call Dick Simmonds on 07976 151226, and for the Thursday group David Jessop on 01403 269384 or email jessopdavid@aol.com