THE owner of a not-for-profit Saddleworth company promoting drystone walling as way of improving mindfulness and mental health has spoken of his own journey as he seeks to recruit more people interested learning the skills needed.

John Matthews, who is also a filmmaker, founded the organisation Dog With a Bone which is now part of Action Oldham.

Dog with a Bone has 30 places for people who could not normally afford to take part in such a course and for those who might not normally attend.

John said: “The courses are for anyone middle-aged, feeling lonely, isolated, long term unemployed or anyone recovered from an illness, like for example post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“It’s for anyone who feels like they would benefit from being outside with other people for two days, who would like some social contact and is keen to learn something new.”

Would-be participants are asked to get someone from a club, society, church group, or other organisation to confirm that they are an appropriate target person.

“Someone has to vouch that you are who you say you are and that you are not in a position to buy such a course,” said John.

To shine a light on what his organisation is doing, John, who lives in Dobcross, has opened up about how he got into drystone walling at a very difficult time of his life.

He said: “My family went through a prolonged period of grief.

“We lost all our parents in the space of a few years and my own family fell apart after the death of my dad.

“I ended up involved in a situation that was not of my making, I had nothing to do with it, I was the piggy in the middle.

“I had no idea at the time but it had a massive effect on me personally. I ended up with chronic insomnia.

“I looked normal but some nights I had had zero sleep. I would just have to say to my work colleagues I was ill that day and take the day off.

‘Some time later, after I had made a full recovery, I was introduced to drystone walling. I have a keen sense of history, sense of place.

“I walk, run and cycle a lot locally and there are these walls everywhere. Why there are so many is interesting in itself.

“Anyway, I found walling to be a deep experience, grounding me in the place. Walling cannot be rushed, it has to be done carefully, methodically and there is something very Zen about it. It is absorbing, relaxing.

“When I showed MIND that I believed it had therapeutic benefits, we ran a pilot together, and after studying it carefully agreed, them saying ‘it ticked every box’ with many positive, healthy mindful benefits.

“When I went to see Action Oldham and told them about what MIND had said, they agreed to support us. We now have funding for a year to see how many people we can introduce to this ancient and dying craft, as well as introducing some simple mindfulness techniques.”

Anyone who knows someone who could benefit from doing such a course can get in touch with John via