Steven grew up in Ruardean and has always loved being out in the woods, watching for visible signs of life. “I have developed a real interest in looking for deer, boar, foxes and badgers; tracking has become my speciality since I completed my Deer Stalking Certificates 1 and 2 and other associated training in 2009-11.” Steven also has an incredible knowledge of fungi, birds, local wildlife and landscape. He loves to photograph these and is a keen photographer. Steven also worked for 12 years as an Agricultural Engineer, which was challenging and sometimes dangerous work that he really enjoyed.
Then, in 2017 he had a seizure shortly after driving a dumper truck at work which was followed by a series of full seizures, funny turns and black outs over the following few months. “It was terrifying,” says Steven, “I remember them telling me that that there was a mass on my brain that looked as if it could be cancer. In September 2017 I had full awake surgery which lasted ten and a half hours, followed by intensive care, physiotherapy, speech therapy, radio therapy and chemotherapy.” Steven’s short-term memory was damaged. “The tumour is wrapped around my right-hand side mobility cord, so it affects the use of my right hand and my ability to walk for long distances.” He said. “I have regular scans and the last five have been clear and shown that the tumour is shrinking.” Steven’s life was changed beyond belief by the experience. Apart from the physical effects he was left feeling extremely anxious, lacking in self-esteem and suffering from crippling insecurities. “For the cancer they gave me steroids which really made me put on weight, it was horrible. I felt so self-conscious. I couldn’t talk to strangers or go into the supermarket where I felt everyone was looking at me.”
Steven started receiving support from the GEM project and heard about Foresters’ Forest through his link person Jen. “I knew that I wanted to get involved with some of the exciting things that Foresters’ Forest do; the first thing I managed was attending a Fungi Course with the Rewild Project. Duncan led the course, but he realised that I knew lots and ask me if I wanted to lead it for the last hour [under his supervision]. I found Coral Fungi, Amethyst Deceiver, Orange Peel Fungi and Sulphur Tuft to name a few. It was incredible for me to lead a group of 18 people and identify all these fungi for them. It really boosted my confidence that I could do that. I felt absolutely buzzing after doing it!”
Steven has had to re-train himself to use his left hand for everything including writing, dressing and using the gym. He wanted to help with Love Your Forest Litter Picks but was unsure at first. “When I did my first litter pick in Cinderford, I wasn’t sure I would manage to hold the bin bag hoop and operate the grabber in my left hand, but I managed it! I really enjoyed it and I want to do more litter picks now I know I can.” He told us.
Steven has also been able to use his photography skills to take some wonderful promotional shots for the Walking with Wheels project and now his photographs are used on all the promotional materials for the project. “I helped at the launch of the new Tramper at Speech House and now that the it is there, I have been asked to take more photos of the new routes around there to Mallards Pike and the Arboretum. I always try to get the Tramper and user plus the woodland scenery in the photos. I think that is what people want to see – the beautiful forest.”
Involvement with Foresters’ Forest has made a big impact on Steven’s life. “It’s made me feel great and confident,” he said, “I’ve lost all my insecurities such as thinking I’m overweight. I’ve been out and about more, and I’ve also lost about 3 stone! My self-esteem has improved, my confidence has grown, and I’ve now got a great feeling that I CAN do it! I had so much anxiety before, I couldn’t even have sat and talked to someone face-to-face to do this case study. I wasn’t like that before the cancer and doing the volunteering has given me back a bit of my old self. I’m so grateful to Forester’ Forest for changing my world really.”
“It’s tough to choose a favourite moment because there are so many good things that have come out of it. Going on the Tramper trails, taking the pictures and finding out that I am good at photography has probably been the best. It is a lovely feeling that someone is looking at my photo today or next week or anytime.”
The newfound confidence that Steven has gained through volunteering has opened lots of new opportunities for him. “I joined the Forest of Dean Camera Club in 2019.” he said, “I would never have done that before. I wouldn’t have walked into a room of strangers, but now I can strike up conversations easily and share ideas and knowledge with them. I feel like it has all changed my potential as a photographer!” Steven is also beginning to speak at support groups for various cancer charities. “I’ve been asked to talk as an inspirational speaker at Brain Tumour Support groups and I feel like I can do it now, tell my story and help others gain confidence like I have.”
Steven also plans to do more litter picking for Foresters’ Forest and will be busy photographing the new routes for the Trampers. “I enjoy getting out every week with Jen from GEM,” said Steven, “but I hope soon to get my driving license back and get a mobility car which will be the key to my independence. I can then have the freedom to do my photography when and where I want and to get involved with even more things.”