Innovative programme harnesses the restorative power of nature

There’s no doubt that connecting with nature can have a very positive effect on health and wellbeing. As part of our grants programme, the Foundation helped fund a community wellbeing initiative centred on nature and mindfulness.

It’s well documented that the first lockdown caused many people to experience high levels of stress and anxiety. Two local community interest companies – Create Seven and Create Community – responded by using their expertise to develop and deliver a range of free health and wellbeing activities for local people.

Create Seven comprises psychologists, outdoor facilitators, wellbeing specialists and creatives who are trained and experienced in developing psychological sustainability and supporting people through times of challenge and change. Create Community is a local community hub that uses imagination, science and humanity to “re-energise and regenerate individuals from the inside”.

The Heritage Foundation awarded the Create teams a £4,555 COVID Catalyst Grant to set up and deliver Nature 4 Wellbeing together. It’s a programme designed to help people rediscover the wealth of green space available in the world’s first garden city, reconnect with nature and protect their mental health.

Community engagement

Psychologist and Create Seven Director Jill Chapman said: “We were very concerned about the mental health and wellbeing of the whole community during the pandemic. We recognised the need to engage those in our community who are not online, to make sure they remained active and connected.

“We have long understood that nature benefits wellbeing, and in recent years this has been backed up by scientific research. We also know that nature can be transformational for people with long-term mental health issues.

“During the first lockdown, more and more people turned to nature as a way to stay well and be healthy. In Letchworth Garden City we have a huge range of nature reserves and open spaces that serve to support us all. It made sense to combine all of these things.”

Free activities programme

The Create teams’ combined experience, expertise and community network enabled them to create a nature-based wellbeing programme of free activities for the people of Hertfordshire.  

The Nature 4 Wellbeing offering includes in-person (socially distanced) Norton Common workshops – and the online equivalent during lockdown – enabling participants to be nourished, revitalised and inspired by the power of nature. There’s a Nature Connection course, delivered on Zoom and designed to boost participants’ health and wellbeing from the comfort of their home or office.

There’s also a nature trail that follows a fully accessible route around the Norton Common Nature Reserve – a great opportunity to get outdoors and enjoy nature at any time.

Spreading the word

Create Seven Co-founder Gary King said: “We promoted our programme on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This enabled us to establish new connections with local people and local community groups, which has been great.

“Many people who engaged in Nature 4 Wellbeing were not active on social media, so referrals and reaching out to them through our Create Community Network was also very important.

“We created a downloadable guide to help people get the most out of the nature trail. We recognised that not everyone would be able to download it, so we had 500 copies printed and distributed them to the Create Community Hub, Morrisons, North Herts Leisure Centre and various local community services organisations, like the Citizens Advice Bureau.”

Health and wellbeing boost

The programme has been a big hit with local people and has helped establish new nature-based habits and behaviours that continue to help boost their health and wellbeing. It has raised local people’s awareness of the green spaces that are available near their homes.

It’s impossible to know the total number of people who engaged in the Nature 4 Wellbeing programme because two of the activities – the sensory walk and the nature trail – are self-guided.

However, we can confirm that 16 people attended the Norton Common Workshop, 12 attended the online lockdown version and a further 10 took part in the Online Nature for Wellbeing Zoom course. 

Phenomenal feedback

Feedback from participants has been overwhelmingly positive: 100% of respondents to Create Community’s feedback questionnaire considered the workshops to be welcoming and safe; and all confirmed that they had learnt new and interesting things that would benefit their wellbeing beyond the sessions.

A community charity leader said: “The facilitators were great at making us all feel welcome and not putting anyone under pressure.” A freelance designer commented: “It felt restorative and great to immerse myself in nature with good company.”

It’s clear that the programme is also having a long-term impact on some participants, as can be seen from this remark made by a local teacher: “I am making more time for walks and outdoor activities since coming on the workshop and now cycle to work.”

Five Ways to Wellbeing

Create measured the impact of the facilitator-led activities against the Five Ways to Wellbeing framework, which has five elements: connect, keep learning, be active, take notice and give. The team found that 100% of respondents rated themselves higher at the end of a workshop than when they registered to attend. 

“Respondents who continued to practise what they learnt and maintained their connection to nature after the course still gave themselves high ratings for all five elements of the framework, four to six weeks after the course,” said Gary. “The equivalent self-ratings for those who were no longer connecting regularly with nature were far lower.” 

Based on these findings, the team is very keen to keep providing opportunities for the community to have frequent nature-based connections and to support people in creating new habits that will sustain the many wellbeing benefits for years to come. 

Positive habits

Summing up, Jill said: “We are so lucky in our Garden City to have an abundance of nature around us. We are passionate about sharing this and making it accessible to as many people as possible, because being connected with nature has an immensely positive impact on people’s health and wellbeing.

“Thanks to the funding from the Heritage Foundation, we have been able to share all our Nature 4 Wellbeing programme activities free of charge. We encourage everyone to continue with these positive habits of nature connection.”

The Foundation will be adapting its grants programme in 2021 to meet the evolving needs of Letchworth Garden City. For more information, visit the Grants page.