The benefits of fresh air, nature and exercise for the mental well-being of people and communities have never been more recognised as we follow the road map out of lockdown.
North Yorkshire County Council is therefore working with a wide range of community groups and is funding projects which tap into the resources of the natural world to improve mental well-being and connect people with nature and with each other to reduce social isolation.
As part of Mental Health Awareness Week (May 10th-`16th) with this year’s theme of ‘connecting with nature’ the County Council’s mental health team is also organising a number of events across the county including nature walks and wild swimming sessions.
“There is a huge amount of evidence to show that physical exercise and getting out into the fresh air and enjoying nature and walking in the countryside has a huge benefit on mental health and our own sense of well-being,” said Richard Webb, County Council Director for Health and Adult Services. “For this reason we are backing initiatives and projects across the county – from running groups to gardening clubs - that promote physical activity as a support for mental health.”
North Yorkshire’s Director of Public Health, Louise Wallace, has also written to the county’s schools asking them to support the mental health campaign week and its theme of nature and its power to support mental well-being.
She said: “As mental health affects 1 in 4 people, it is important to mark this week, encourage conversations about mental wellbeing and support this year’s theme.
“As we emerge from the isolation of lockdown, which has taken a huge toll on people’s mental health, being active outdoors and connecting with nature, with members of your community or friends or family, has never been more important. Increasingly we are therefore supporting the work of partners and community groups which are directly linking physical activity with mental health support.”
The County Council is using its innovative Stronger Communities funding to support a wide range of physical and outdoor activity initiatives across the county that promote wellbeing:
- One of these initiatives includes Project Wild based in Selby, which has created wildlife activity packs to help young people and families remain engaged with nature and the outdoors.
- Stronger Communities has also supported South Milford Incredible Edible, a new project with a focus on community members coming together to grow food with the aim of connecting people with nature as well as addressing social isolation.
- In Skipton, the impact of the pandemic on mental health is being addressed with an inventive summer project called Ground Yourself in Green, which embraces the positive qualities of the outdoor life to help those affected by lockdowns and loss. It has been organised through the Skipton Step into Action group, which became one of North Yorkshire’s community support organisations during the pandemic. Ground Yourself in Green provides a range of options for those struggling to cope with the pressures of the last year, including yoga and ‘mindfulness’ sessions an Aireville Park as well as allotment sessions, with the common theme of tapping into the positive benefits of nature.
- In Harrogate, Skipton and surrounding areas, another Stronger Communities-backed project called Blackdog Outdoors will provide free introductions to outdoor activities such as hill walking, climbing, hill skills and paddle sports. The activities are designed for small groups of people who require a safe space with likeminded individuals to improve mental health and wellbeing. Blackdog Outdoors will then work with local organisations, clubs and support teams who can work with the groups of people so they can continue to engage in outdoor activity in the longer term.
- The County Council’s Stronger Communities team also works in close collaboration with North Yorkshire Sport and funds a range of projects to improve physical and mental health.
To coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week, North Yorkshire Sport and the County Council are launching a series of initiatives for organisations to utilise physical activity better to improve mental health.
To this end North Yorkshire Sport has created a mental health friendly organisations framework, which aims to help community groups put in place simple practices to be more inclusive, raise awareness and tackle stigma.
The framework consists of a simple checklist which suggests actions which can be put in place to make a difference to people engaging in sport and physical activity, organisations will have the opportunity to submit evidence and receive a digital badge.
As part of their work within the MIND Regional Network, clubs will also be encouraged to appoint mental health champions and join the new Yorkshire & Humber Mental Health Champion Scheme. These champions will aim to establish a network of volunteers across the region to work with their local sports club / group to support both its members and new people to improve their mental health through sport and physical activity.
David Watson, Chief Executive of North Yorkshire Sport said: “We work closely with North Yorkshire Council across a range of services and we are particularly delighted to work with them in relation to supporting people to experience positive mental health. An individual’s mental health is impacted upon by many factors and our close working relationship with the Council enables us to promote the positive effects of sport and physical activity on a far wider audience than would otherwise be possible.”
- During the coming year the county council will also be expanding its Discoveries on Your Doorstep project. Funded by Public Health and working with partners the aim of the project is to encourage people to use public rights of way by offering a series of planned walking routes which take in heritage, cultural and natural landmarks.
They range from castles to canal towpaths and offer a fascinating glimpse at parts of communities which residents might otherwise overlook.
The scheme has been established in Scarborough and Selby districts, but a partnership between the County Council and the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust is now expected to see that idea replicated at many more locations in the months ahead and the intention is to target future schemes at communities most affected by coronavirus.
County Councillor Caroline Dickinson, North Yorkshire’s Executive Member for Public Health said: “More and more we are backing those community groups and organisations who recognise that offering physical activity and enjoyment of the outdoors and connecting with the natural world is fundamental to improving people’s mental well-being. In North Yorkshire, which is so rich in beautiful countryside and open spaces, we are increasing the opportunities to strengthen our support for our communities in this way.”