On two windy days in February something unusual happened at St Vincent De Paul Catholic Primary School in the centre of Liverpool. Almost overnight, 200 trees appeared in the school grounds. The inner city school had got its own piece of forest.
The school, tucked between the bars of the Ropewalks and the hipster creative businesses of the Baltic Triangle is about as urban as it gets. So it's a pretty big deal when a crowd of parents, children and staff give up their time to plant a woodland, bringing nature into the school environment.
The marathon planting sessions were just one small part of a project by The Mersey Forest, funded by Smurfit Kappa Foundation and the Ernest Cook Trust which is aiming to embed a culture of natural play and learning in Merseyside schools. It's in response to studies like that done by the National Trust in 2014 which found that most children play outside for less than an hour a day, and the public health implications of inactive children turning into obese sedentary adults. With experts now claiming 'sitting is the new smoking', restoring active play outdoors is becoming urgent.
On Thursday, 18th August, senior leaders at the NHS Foundation Trusts and the Council showed their support for the Health for Life programme at the Countess of Chester Country Park by joining in one of the popular weekly Nature4Health sessions.
The park now offers weekly health walks and conservation activities to everyone, from residents, hospital staff to patients and visitors, encouraging us all to get fit and healthy in the great outdoors, with sessions taking place on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and lunchtimes.
Alistair Cook, Health for Life Project Officer, said: "The Countess of Chester Country Park has a fantastic setting that provides a haven of green space for everybody. Our regular sessions are on Tuesdays and Thursdays but I'll happily look at other dates and times to suit demand. So don't sit about - get in touch and come and enjoy nature for yourself."
Spending time in nature and doing activities, such as conservation activities are not only fun and great ways to socialise, they are also really beneficial for physical and mental health, as more and more research is proving.
Alan Carter, Director of Portfolio Management at the Land Trust said "This is a great demonstration of a positive partnership working together to help improve people's health and wellbeing."
• Green Gym activities take place every Tuesday and Thursday 10.30am – 12.30pm
• Health walks take place every Tuesday and Thursday at 1.30pm
• All groups meet at the Countess of Chester Country Park car park off Countess Way.
For more information see here.
The project is part-funded by Nature4Health – a three-year project funded by The Big Lottery's 'Reaching Communities' programme that aims to redress health inequalities and is co-ordinated by The Mersey Forest. The aim is to support 12 new people each week through their chosen 12-week beginners' activity programme and throughout the programme, participants will be monitored with results feeding into a study to hopefully demonstrate how being more active and spending time outdoors can help people's health and wellbeing, such as contributing towards stress reduction, mental illnesses, lower back pain, cardiovascular illnesses and obesity among others.
The work is part of a project aiming to introduce Forest School to the most urban sites and schools of Liverpool.
The Forest School project offers a unique approach to teaching the curriculum, focusing on the exploration of the natural environment ensuring risk and challenge are at the heart of play experiences.
The Mersey Forest is working with children's centres and schools in inner city urban areas who have limited access to green space to help improve health and learning. It's funded by Smurfit Kappa and the Ernest Cook Trust.
Over the past few months, Garston Primary School Year 1 pupils have taken part in a total of 12 sessions of Forest School led by Forest School consultancy Branching Out Forest School. The school's own staff are now being trained to teach Forest School so that the lessons can continue for many years to come.
Hannah Kennedy, class teacher from Garston Primary said:
"I loved to see the children in a completely different environment, to see the way they solve problems and face challenges, to see their imaginations develop"
"I was also really struck by the change in one little boy who has English as a second language. He would say more to me in the walk to the woods than he does in the rest of the week put together. In the classroom he is very difficult to engage. But out here he is engrossed and engaged!"
The aim is to help to reconnect children (and adults) with the natural world, improving learning and health. The project provides a positive natural space for children to learn, instilling positive environmental values that they will carry through to later life.
Trudy Rush, from funders Smurfit Kappa, said:
"It was wonderful seeing the children learning in their woodland environment, the delight on their faces going into the woods and their keeness to get involved in all the challenges on site. Forest School clearly has a huge benefit and we are really keen to ensure this opportunity continues to be offered to more urban schools across Liverpool."
For Smurfit Kappa the real test of success is the sustainability of the project, leaving a lasting legacy of Forest School sites, trained teachers and a network of practitioners who can continue to spread Forest School to more schools and children.
Jo Sayers, Community Development Officer at The Mersey Forest, who leads the project and supports schools in the development of Forest School across Merseyside and North Cheshire said;
"In the next stage of the project, families will be trained to support their children to take part in natural play. We hope those families will support other families and we will encourage more children to be playing outside in natural spaces."
Recent research by The Mersey Forest with Liverpool John Moores University has shown that Forest School gets children active, to the same level as a PE lesson. This adds to the growing evidence to show that many children also learn better in the natural environment.
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We've teamed up to add these group rides to the range of activities being provided in the borough as part of the new Nature4Health scheme. Nature4Health supports local groups to provide high quality, evidence-based sessions utilising the assets of the local natural surroundings. It's about providing health-promoting, enjoyable group activities in a green, therapeutic space.
This is a fantastic opportunity to explore the amazing open spaces across the Borough, such as Colliers Moss Common, part of the Bold Forest Park. The bike rides will be based at the Cycle Hub at Bold Miners' Neighbourhood Centre, Fleet Lane. Developed in partnership with Sustrans North West, the Cycle Hub has a stock of bicycles, helmets and hi-vis gear available for public use. It's one of five in the borough and also offers cycle skills and maintenance training. The new rides are a great way to find out more about how you can benefit from the Hubs as well as the local green networks you can explore by bike.
The bike rides are now in the planning stage, and the organisers would love to hear the thoughts of local residents. If you have ideas for routes or want to get involved, please register your interest with Adam Molyneux, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 01744 676174.
Nature4Health is a three-year project funded by The Big Lottery's Reaching Communities Programme, with a total of £419,597 awarded for work in targeted communities across The Mersey Forest including St Helens, Liverpool and Sefton.
If you would like to work in partnership with The Mersey Forest to develop Nature4Health activities in your community please call or email Suzanne on 01925 816217 or email@example.com