Somerset Nature Connections to provide long-term support for its most vulnerable
The partners of a new three-year project called Somerset Nature Connections are excited to announce its launch. Funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, the partnership project with the Somerset Wildlife Trust, Mendip Hills, Quantock Hills and Blackdown Hills AONBs (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) will support local communities and individuals most vulnerable to mental health issues, providing better access to nature spaces to encourage and increase self-management for individuals, and develop a network of skilled volunteers who can support communities for the longer term. The project will also work be working closely with mental health charities Mind and Chard WATCH. Significant funding has also been received from Hinkley Point C Community Impact Mitigation (CIM) Fund and Somerset County Council. Further financial support from other funders is currently being finalised.
Jim Hardcastle, Mendip Hills AONB Manager, said, ‘Somerset is blessed in having three AONBs that can be used as a ‘natural health service’ for the community. The Blackdown Hills, Quantock Hills and Mendip Hills are all designated as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, these are special areas rich in nature and wild places. The combination of the AONB teams and Somerset Wildlife Trust working together for the benefit of the community in Somerset is really powerful and will have a long-lasting legacy.’
Even prior to the Coronavirus pandemic, which has seen a surge in the number of people turning to nature for their mental wellbeing, there was a glut of strong evidence that time spent outdoors helps improve people’s mental and physical health and wellbeing. Jolyon Chesworth, Head of Engagement at Somerset Wildlife Trust says: “There are individuals and communities in Somerset who stand to benefit hugely from time spent in natural spaces, but access is often limited. It’s vital that we support people and communities in need in these particularly challenging times, and that we do something positive and long term to empower particularly vulnerable people or groups to connect with the project so they don’t feel isolated and alone, and can meet people in a safe, supported, nature-based environment to self-manage their mental health.’
Somerset Nature Connections will run a targeted programmed delivered in 6-week blocks at various locations across the county for people experiencing poor mental health. The programme will include practical outdoor activities, including conservation tasks, wildlife walks and natural crafts, adapted to the meet the specific needs of each group in order to help them connect with nature. Volunteers will be recruited and trained to provide peer support to those who may need extra help to attend activities and to access mainstream nature volunteer groups. Others will volunteer to provide health and wellbeing support at local community groups. The project will work with local community groups and support staff working with people with at higher risk of experiencing mental health problems. This may include people with learning disabilities, long term health conditions, carers and isolated older people. As part of this, the project will increase group leaders’ knowledge and skills to deliver outdoor wellbeing-enhancing activities.
This month, Somerset Nature Connections Project Manager, Kristen Lambert joined the Trust and said “We are really looking forward to recruiting the rest of the team over the next few months so that this project can begin to provide a valuable service to help local people directly and assist local community groups to better support those they work with. Access to nature can be a powerful tool for helping people learn new skills, gain confidence, relax, communicate with others and be present – which can all help to manage and improve mental health and wellbeing.”