A blog by Rhoda Wilkinson, Nature and Wellbeing Manager at The Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside

A need for nature

It’s felt increasingly true in recent years ‘that necessity is the mother of all invention’ and it’s often how we in the voluntary sector develop, responding to community need. The Wildlife Trust have for decades aligned conservation work with a strong recognition of the importance of engaging our communities.

This led to the start of Myplace 2016 and what has become our Nature and Wellbeing Service. This over the years has taken the idea that nature is good for you and learned how to create referral pathways and partnerships with health professionals to bring the benefits of the natural world to those least likely to be benefiting from them. In effect what has since become more commonly known as Green Social Prescribing.

The effect of Covid-19

It’s incredibly inspiring and motivating work to be involved with, and we continue to experience the joy of introducing the natural world to people who often have been too anxious to leave the house, never mind exploring their local wild areas. Pre-pandemic as a team we increasingly worried for the health of both our communities and our natural environment as a shared and interconnected crisis.

Whilst I still experience this anxiety and concern for both community and nature, what did happen throughout the pandemic was that everyone, regardless of their politics and background, started to consider the direct link between nature and our collective wellbeing.

It’s been really exciting to see this grow and I would encourage everyone to hold on to the acknowledgement of the importance of nature that really came to the forefront in 2020.  The pandemic arguably may have moved on to a more ‘managed’ phase but the systemic issues about how we as a society approach our overall health and wellbeing and ensure the healthy future of our natural world very much remain.

Working in partnership – Nature for Health

Nature for Health provided a timely opportunity for partners across Greater Manchester to come together to explore how we could collectively grow green social prescribing and the different approaches that might be used to enable it to be rolled out to all communities.

In many ways this feels like a massive challenge at a time when budgets are yet again under increased pressure, and our NHS partners remain stretched. If the current systems are not working though, surely the answer is not to continue to try and push overstretched systems to again do more for less, but to look at changing our approach to both the health of our communities and of our natural world.

Over the last 18 months we’ve seen hundreds of local green groups and organisations across Greater Manchester coming together to do just this. The diversity and volume of activity across Greater Manchester is so exciting to see – with some amazing people doing amazing things in often the most unlikely of places!

Throughout our direct work, particularly in Bury and as part of the Green Social Prescribing training programme, I get to see a side to people and communities that enables me to remain positive about our collective futures when at times this might seem more challenging. There are amazing things happening in our world when we take the time to stop and stare…

We had a person, Paul, referred recently to our Nature and Wellbeing sessions at Philips Park. He’d been getting more and more isolated, not leaving the house. He quickly became really involved taking every opportunity to try new things as his confidence grew, and now is thriving volunteering with other green groups around Bury and Philips Park.  Time and again we see the impact taking action for natures recovery can have in transforming peoples own lives.