Getting There!

New opportunities for mental health, well-being and resilience at Heather Lodge

As we emerge from the pandemic there is a growing realisation that much has changed in the last two years. Health Services, already under huge pressures by 2020, have taken a hit, with longer waiting lists and difficulties for people accessing services. Our collective mental health – individuals and communities – has suffered.

With this in mind, the Scottish Government has boosted funding for mental health with a £1.5M Scotland-wide ‘Communities Mental Health and Well-being Fund’, administered locally by ACVS. The intention was to provide new solutions from resources already available in communities. The Mary Davies Trust and Heather Lodge fronted a successful bid for funding on behalf of a group of Arran therapists who are setting out to provide professional leadership in an offering of predominantly nature-based therapies. This is for everyone, but is especially open to marginalised groups, and will be free at the point of delivery. It is intended to take referrals from Primary Care, Mental Health and Social Services, using Heather Lodge’s well-established relationship with statutory bodies, as well as giving an option for self-referral.

The project (‘Getting There!’) is an extension of the existing Heather Lodge service. It will expand provision of a range of physical and outdoor (weather permitting!) nature-based activities, including Social and Therapeutic Horticulture (STH), Shinrin Yoku (‘forest bathing’), a Women’s Drumming Circle, Therapeutic ‘Walk & Talk’ Counselling, and Movement Medicine (a dance therapy) to support and foster social, cognitive, emotional, physical and spiritual well-being on Arran.

The project sits under the umbrella of ‘Green Care’, the ethos of which is to use nature-based activities to maximise social, physical and psychological functioning and enhance general health and well-being. Research provides strong evidence as to why inclusive access to the outdoors matters. Studies show the benefits of passive exposure to nature and demonstrate direct links between amount and use of accessible local green space and psychological health, increased physical exercise, social contacts and personal development.

However, ‘Green Care’ is also an active process. Specific focused outdoor activities that appear quite simple can lead to improvements in more than one domain: for example, research shows regular STH sessions reduce heart rate, improve fitness levels, attention, concentration, memory and mood, and encourage teamwork, communication skills and social interaction. Growing fresh produce also leads to increased self-esteem and improved diet. Research from Japan demonstrates forest bathing creates calming changes in the nervous system, reducing stress, anger, anxiety, depression and sleeplessness, and boosting the immune system.

‘Getting There!’ Is signed up to several of the Fund’s headline intentions:

* Tackling issues such as suicide prevention, social isolation and loneliness
* Addressing mental health inequalities made worse by the pandemic
* Providing opportunities for people to connect with each other, build trusted relationships and revitalise communities
* Support recovery and creativity locally by building on what is already there and what was achieved through the pandemic
* Investing in creative solutions
* Developing personal and community strengths and resilience

These are ambitious standards to aspire to. However, there is a familiar maxim: ‘Start where you are; use what you’ve got; do what you can’. With that in mind, ’Getting There!’ aims to hit the ground running, and see what can be done to help people.

Further information, including information about the lead professionals in each strand of the project, their backgrounds and experience, and how to access activities will be available shortly. However, any initial enquiries are welcome at:

‘Getting there!’ Is funded by the Scottish Government in association with ACVS, North Ayrshire Health and Social Care Partnership, North Ayrshire Community Planning Partnership and The Ayrshire Community Trust.

Malcolm Kerr