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Cheshire's innovative Natural Health Service in running for major national award

11 September 2018

  • Children at Forest School
  • Participants in Nature4Health horticultural activities
  • Participant in Nature4Health horticultural activities showing off his crops
An innovative partnership between Cheshire West and Chester Council, the Mersey Forest and other community partners has been nominated for a national award. 

Cheshire's Natural Health Service uses the best of the county's green spaces to get people out and about to help improve participants' physical health and mental wellbeing. 

It's been nominated for an award from the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) under the heading of Best Health & Wellbeing Initiative.  

In Cheshire West and Chester, as in England as a whole, high levels of wellbeing are not equally distributed across the population. Data shows that life expectancy at birth for men is nearly ten years lower in areas of the industrial Ellesmere Port than their counterparts in and around Chester - and, across the UK, deprivation is associated with obesity; a key cause of cancer and heart disease. In Cheshire West and Chester, 64.6% of adults, just under a quarter of 4-5 year olds, and a third of 10-11 year-olds, are overweight or obese.

The initiative builds on the growing body of evidence that activities in the natural environment can have a significant impact on keeping people healthy.

The programme itself consists of up to  twelve weeks of evidence-based outdoor activity known to tackle some of our most pressing health needs - and results to date have shown significant increases both in participants' physical and mental wellbeing.

Activities available through Cheshire's Natural Health Service include:

Nature Based Health Walks

Low impact exercise in local green space. Easy to access, they help to break down the barriers to a more active lifestyle, especially amongst those struggling to be active because of a health condition. They're designed to be suitable for people with cancer, heart disease, poor mental health and obesity - and help to create peer support networks, reducing social isolation and encouraging ongoing activity after the activity has finished.

Practical Conservation

These sessions improve strength and stamina through nature based conservation projects, boosting practical skills and confidence whilst benefiting local green spaces. 

Horticulture Therapy

Improving mental and physical wellbeing through food growing and gardening. The sites are safe and secure places to develop participants' ability to mix socially, make friends and learn practical skills that help them to be more independent. Using gardening tasks and the garden itself, the horticultural therapists build a set of activities for each gardener to improve their particular health needs, and to work on certain goals they want to achieve.

Forest School/Bush Craft for Adults

These involve hands-on learning and play experiences within a woodland setting and have been demonstrated to promote positive behavioural change in children. The project extends the principles of Forest School to adults too, combining physical activity and outdoor learning to inspire individuals of any age

Mindful contact with nature

This activity aims to improve mental health especially by increasing resilience against day-to-day triggers of stress and anxiety. Focused on individuals with mild/moderate anxiety and depression, the sessions bring together mindfulness techniques and the sense of a connection to nature. Participants are taught a range of self-practice techniques, empowering them to take positive action for their mental wellbeing within their local green space.

Cheshire's Natural Health Service is running for another two years and has a rolling programme of events meaning anyone can join in the free activities at any point.  To find out what's running near you visit

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