The ‘Wild Skills Wild Spaces’ (WSWS) team from Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust met at Llyn Coed y Dinas’ on 26th May to exhibit a brand new ecotherapy programme aimed at adults and young people who may be struggling with their mental health. Ecotherapy is the term given to a range of activities and treatments that reconnect people with nature and the environment, in order to improve health and wellbeing. Research carried out by the Wildlife Trust movement and Essex University has shown that such activities can reduce stress and anxiety and other low level mental wellbeing concerns.
Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trusts’ Head of Health and Wellbeing, Carla Kenyon has been working in partnership with Powys Teaching Health Board to develop a project that empowers people who would not typically engage in outdoor activities and/or prescribed therapeutic interventions. Staff from local mental health services have taken part in taster sessions, which has already generated a lot of interest, with many eager to refer people to Wild Skills Wild Spaces. With funding from the Welsh Government, the emphasis is on providing free, inclusive and accessible sessions which are non- clinical and participants can partake at their own pace.
Ecotherapy session stomping ground will include local reserves Llyn Coed Y Dinas and Severn Farm Pond in Welshpool, Dolforwyn Woods in Newtown, as well as open Newtown site ‘Cultivate’ Community Gardens. Activities will include wildlife walks, bushcraft skills like fire lighting, growing projects where participants will get to harvest and cook their own food and many other exciting opportunities. The programme will be run on a 12 week basis, with sessions lasting for two and half hours, once a week for small groups. Project Manager, Frances- Louise believes that the success of the programme relies on the WSWS team keeping in touch with participants in the long term, setting up ‘friends of groups’ for each site so that they can continue to meet and improve their wellbeing.
The inspiration for Wild Skills Wild Spaces came from Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s ‘My Place’ project, running wellbeing sessions based on the ‘5 ways to wellbeing’ which are connecting with nature, being active, taking notice, learning and giving back. Findings from the project in 2019, revealed that 100% of case studies felt happier, more confident and less angry; some participants gained employment as a result of acquiring new skills and improving self- confidence.
WSWS colleagues will be working with a research team led by Professor Diane Crone FRSPH at Cardiff Met University to evaluate the success of their own programme and provide standards and a framework for Welsh Government to hopefully influence social policy. If the project is as successful as Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust hope, it could potentially carve a pathway and framework for similar schemes to be set up in other parts of Wales.
To find out more about Wild Skills Wild Spaces, head to https://www.montwt.co.uk/WSWS
Carla Kenyon, Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust (Head of Health and Wellbeing):
“ It has been a long time in the making and was due to start in 2020, and so after 5 years hard work we are really pleased to have recruited a fabulous and very experienced team to finally deliver this fantastic Welsh Government Flagship project. Working with Professor Diane Crone and her team at Cardiff Met Uni we hope to provide standards, a framework and the evaluation needed to help influence social policy in Welsh Government. By bringing people closer to nature and wildlife, we hope to help and contribute to the wellbeing of lots of people in north Powys.’
Professor of Exercise and Health, Diane Crone, PHD, FRSPH (Cardiff Metropolitan University)
“Being outdoors, being active with other people and connecting with nature is known to benefit our mental health and wellbeing. This project will provide people with much needed opportunities for getting out and being with people again after such a long time. Cardiff Met are pleased to be the evaluation partner for such a worthwhile project”
Louisa Kerr Head of Mental Health Operations Powys Teaching Health Board
‘We have been working jointly with Carla and Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust helping support and guide this project for some time now, and so it is great to see it finally come to fruition. I have no doubt it we will continue to work in partnership to utilise the assets of our beautiful County to enhance support for the emotional health and mental wellbeing of people using mental health services as well as their families and carers.’
Frances- Louise, Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust (WSWS Project Manager):
“It’s extremely exciting to be leading on such an innovative and timely project. The events of the last year on society has really highlighted a need to support people’s mental wellbeing, whether it’s anxiety, depression or social isolation, this programme hopes to empower participants to engage in a community, a community of practical activity that brings both people and wildlife together; for improved health and wellbeing now and into the future.”