Funding support from North Yorkshire’s Suicide Prevention grass roots programme has launched an innovative mental health support project that capitalises on one of the county’s finest assets – the great outdoors.

Our Stronger Communities team awarded a grant to the I Choose Life Foundation for a group of adults – most of them established in professional jobs or in business – to complete the national Three Peaks challenge.

After completing the physical challenge, getting to grips with nature, it is expected they will have improved their own mental well-being to an extent where they can go on to help and mentor others in their day-to-day lives.

The Foundation was set up to work with those either struggling with mental health issues themselves or affected by others, such as family members, with problems.

Stronger Communities is administering the funding support for this outdoors project on behalf of West Yorkshire and Harrogate Health and Care Partnership.

The Foundation is overseeing this group’s completion of the national Three Peaks challenge after training in North Yorkshire where they have been learning to open up about their own mental health and understand the problems others face.

They will also be invited to nominate candidates for the next ‘big adventure’, which the Foundation aims to run twice a year, creating the opportunity not only to help more individuals but to create a wider blanket of ‘champions’ within the community who are able to spot those struggling and offer the support they may need.

Those undertaking the climbs come from all walks of life, including people who historically have been reluctant to seek help and support with their mental health.

Police officer Paddy Hammond is among those who took part and emphasised the benefits of being outdoors, away from the stresses of life, with a group of others: “I am a police officer and deal with mental health on a daily basis at work and know it is important to look after your own mental health.

“I have struggled over time and it is good to get out, we have a bond together. Getting out into the Yorkshire Dales is unbelievable, there is no mobile phone reception so you can switch off from that and have six or eight hours forgetting about troubles at home or work, it is fantastic,” said Paddy, aged 50.

He is now hoping to encourage officers with the North Yorkshire force to get involved in a future challenge in the hope they can reap the same benefits.

Sarah Kekoa from the I Choose Life Foundation said they had been successful in working with young adults, in their 20s and 30s, at weekly drop-in sessions and had started ‘mini adventures’ to get people out exercising and experiencing nature at first hand.

“We have supported a lot in their 20s and 30s who were completely isolated,” she said. “When we are doing family work, mums are coming a lot but there is a lot to do with dads and this project was tailored at getting those guys out, for a bigger challenge.

“They are the ones who don’t ask for help and they were not letting people know how they were really feeling,” she said.

The party that completed the three peaks on June 11 is a mixed group and it is intended they will have a “ripple effect” by using their experience in their own social and professional circles.

“There are still an enormous amount of people who feel shame, that they should be able to cope and get on with it,” Sarah said.

The current group is using the Three Peaks Challenge to raise funds to support the next and that process should continue into the future, creating a growing pool of people within the community with the understanding and knowledge to step in and offer support where they identify people who are struggling.

Some may return for future ‘big adventures’ to support those they have nominated and Sarah said: “I just see this rolling on.”

Marie-Ann Jackson, head of the Stronger Communities team, said: “This is a fantastic initiative and we are delighted to be able to support it with funding through the Suicide Prevention programme that we help to deliver.

“It has been a lovely example of people in the community helping each other, something we are always keen to promote.”

Stronger Communities works with residents and community groups across the county to help empower them to find solutions to local issues and take greater control of their well-being.

During the pandemic Stronger Communities has also been involved in distributing grants, but its regular work includes supporting community libraries, community transport and working to ensure services are in place for families, children and adults.

The Foundation was formed to operate alongside an existing charity called Autism Angels, but has a more wide-ranging remit to help those affected by mental health.