A strong focus of our work in recent years has been connecting people with nature to improve their wellbeing. Earlier in the year we hosted the Permanent Secretary from Defra to help government learn more about environmental therapies in action.
The visit by Clare Moriarty, Permanent Secretary at Defra, was hosted in Northwich woodlands – 100 acres created over 20 years thanks to strong partnership working. The woodlands have now matured into an ideal setting for wellbeing initiatives, including many that form part of Cheshire's Natural Health Service.
Clare was given a demonstration of a number of local initiatives that each impact on wellbeing:
Mindful movement in nature class
A mindful movement class in the woodlands began last Autumn as part of Cheshire's Natural Health Service
. They were such a success that following the end of the 12-week programme, participants felt that they had benefited so much that they wanted to pay to continue. A hardy bunch of 20 or so have carried on throughout the long winter months, led by trainer Donna Burston.
Forest School taster session
Over refreshments of toasted marshmallows and croissants over the fire round the campfire Jo Sayers, Community Development Manager from The Mersey Forest team spoke about the mental health benefits of connecting children to nature through the Defra Trees for Learning
programme and Forest School
. The Mersey Forest are managing national programme of tree planting across the community forests. It is part of a DEFRA backed programme to support schools to plant 1 million trees by 2020 and links to the national curriculum, health and climate change.
Prof Zoe Knowles from Liverpool John Moores University summarised the evidence showing the impact of our completed Big Lottery funded project, Nature4Health
, and Cheshire's Natural Health Service have made on people's lives.
Alan Redley, chair of FoAM – Friends of Anderton & Marbury
- one of the largest friends groups in the country – gave moving accounts of the mental health benefits of volunteering in greenspaces.
Mersey Forest staff and partners had a productive discussion with the Permanent Secretary about the potential of our green space assets to improve health.
Clare Olver, Programme Manager, explained that to have greatest impact, delivery of the Natural Health Service needs to be resourced in a sustainable way where the voluntary, community and social enterprises are properly funded for the work they provide, the infrastructure is in place to support the service and there is a high quality, independent research.
Cllr Gittins, Deputy Leader, Cheshire West and Chester Council, spoke about the role of local authorities in showing leadership in using greenspace assets to improve mental, and physical, wellbeing, and through funding Cheshire's Natural Health Service and raising the profile of the assets. Urban green space assets, including community woodlands, have the greatest potential to benefit the largest amount of people in terms of health and wellbeing. There's a need for continued investment in green spaces close to communities with high levels of poor health in order to reduce health inequalities and encourage the use of our natural environment through social action.
The positive message about the natural environment and health within Defra's 25 Year Plan for the Environment
was welcomed, and the opportunity it provides to promote the development of the Natural Health Service.