MHAW2021: How we use nature to improve wellbeing | News

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MHAW2021: How we use nature to improve wellbeing

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and this year is all about nature and the wellbeing benefits of connecting with it.

Through the horticultural activity delivered at our community allotment PIER for the past eight years, we’ve seen first-hand just how much nature can improve physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing not only for our service users, residents, volunteers and staff but for people from all walks of life in our communities.

Our PIER journey began by engaging service users in growing food at our residential projects and through projects in partnership with other local organisations to improve local green space provision. In 2015, we acquired land through the One Partnership to upscale the project by developing a community garden to support social and therapeutic green care activity, increase access to community green space and improve health and wellbeing opportunities for the whole community.

And much like the seeds we planted at the time, it’s only grown since then!

Our team of volunteers have worked hard to create a beautiful, relaxing and therapeutic piece of land that grows fruit and vegetables for the local community.

More recently we have developed a social prescribing network to ensure that anybody can access good quality, non-medical, nature-based health and wellbeing activity close by and linked to their GP practices. Already we are undertaking a pilot project at GP practices in Kirkholt and Kingsway with our partner leads at KYP, Action Together, Link 4 Life, Rochdale Health Alliance and Public Health funded by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority Green Social Prescribing Test and Pilot Project and the National Academy for Social Prescribing and Arts Council Thriving Communities Fund.

This will see delivery and support for health and wellbeing activity in:

  • Arts and culture
  • Nature and environment
  • Sports and leisure
  • Finance and advice

It will have a particular focus on supporting people who face health inequalities including BAME and homeless communities and act as a recovery approach for those who have been significantly affected by COVID-19. We’re excited to be a part of bringing this offer to the borough.

In April at this year’s Citizens UK Greater Manchester Mayoral Assembly, our service users shared stories about their lives and experiences in front of over 500 people and asked mayoral candidates if they would support social prescribing if elected. It was a unanimous yes! We believe that by raising awareness of social prescribing and supporting positive changes to the health care system that allow non-medical treatments to be prescribed alongside and share the same esteem as medical intervention, it will empower people to have greater control over their own health and in some cases help to address underlying issues that impact their wellbeing.

Through PIER the effect of social and therapeutic horticulture has been widespread; it offers a safe space for people to learn, socialise and feel a sense of belonging in the local community. Lots of research has shown that access to the natural environment supports health and wellbeing, aside from the fresh air and sunlight which naturally boost vitamin D, there is also an innate evolutionary and biological need to be in nature known as ‘biophilia’ which is why it can often feel so great to.

Gardening activities outdoors are particularly powerful in that alongside these benefits it presents the opportunity to not just observe but to actively engage and interact in that environment. It also provides many opportunities to engage in the 5 ways to mental wellbeing:

  1. To connect with other people
  2. Be physically active
  3. Keep learning new skills
  4. To give to others
  5. To take notice of the present moment

And on top of all of that you get fresh healthy organically grown fruit and vegetables!

Gardening has very few barriers – regardless of age or ability, there is something for everyone. Even without a garden there is the opportunity to grow indoors or in community spaces that are increasing in their numbers across the UK. It spans all cultures and backgrounds. It provides a common interest that we can all understand, good food and beauty to appreciate.

It can also lead to wider opportunities for people to engage not just locally but on a much larger scale. Our exhibit at RHS Tatton Park 2019 was particularly powerful in its impact on the health and wellbeing of those who took part and continues to almost two years on, more so now as we prepare to return for this summer’s Flower Show!

The impact of working as a team to reach a common goal and then succeeding in what is a highly challenging but immensely rewarding project at Tatton in 2019 provided a sense of achievement and a unique platform for our service users to tell their story and show what they could achieve despite the challenges they have faced over the years.

Please help them get back to Tatton this July where they can experience that sense of belonging once again by texting 2BELONG to 70085 to donate £2 or 2021BELONG to donate £5.

This Mental Health Awareness Week, we’d definitely recommend connecting with nature in some way – maybe by taking part in horticultural activity, gardening or enjoying the great outdoors through exploring botanical gardens, visiting parks, going on walks or hikes.

If you’d like more information on accessing activity at our community garden, our involvement at Tatton or the social prescribing network, please contact Rachael Bennion at rachael.bennion@petrus.org.uk

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