The Poundbury Nature for Wellbeing Project
By Miles King, People Need Nature
Over the past four years People Need Nature has been working on an urban nature project with The Duchy of Cornwall in their Poundbury development. Poundbury is an urban extension of Dorset’s county town, Dorchester. The Poundbury Nature Project is creating and managing wildflower meadows, and other wildlife-rich grasslands across 15ha of open space in the development. Read more about the Poundbury Nature Project in these articles from the Poundbury Magazine.
These new places rich in urban wildlife are a valuable resource for Poundbury residents and visitors and are very well used throughout the year. People Need Nature has always planned that these places would also be used to support people’s mental health and wellbeing, using the principles of Green Social Prescribing. Social Prescribing aims to provide health professionals with non-medical alternatives that they can offer to patients, or that can complement medical interventions. Green Social Prescribing specifically focuses on the benefits that nature can provide, through social prescribing interventions. We were originally part of a (unsuccessful) bid from Dorset in 2019 to an NHS pilot programme on Green Social Prescribing. Then came Covid.
The Covid Pandemic has highlighted large discrepancies in access to nature, and has also had a profoundly damaging effect on people’s mental health and wellbeing. As part of a longstanding partnership with the Young Poets Network of the Poetry Society, PNN explored this inequity through a poetry challenge written by the late Gboyega Odubanjo.
After another unsuccessful bid to the Green Recovery Challenge Fund for a Green Social Prescribing project in 2020, our focus returned to the Nature Project. Our fortunes changed in 2023 which saw us raising funds for a pilot Green Social Prescribing project, The Poundbury Nature for Wellbeing project. The College of Medicine and Integrated Health provided generous initial funding which we were then able to match with funding from Dorset Council and Dorchester Town Council. Fortuitously we were also able to join the Aviva Save our Wild Isles Crowdfunder, and raised over £7500 from the generosity of our donors and Aviva’s match funding. This is a pilot project where we will investigate how a range of different nature-based activities improve people’s mental health and wellbeing; activities will run through to next August.
The Poundbury Nature for Wellbeing project has now been in development through the last year and we are about to start our first nature-based activities on The Great Field, Poundbury. We have a range of different activities, and, weather permitting, they will take place in a relatively quiet location in amongst the wildflower meadows and trees planted on the Great Field. Thankfully for bad weather, we also have access to an indoor room which is part of the Pavilion in the Park, run by the Alcohol Education Trust. The PiP as it is known also has those other vital resources – a café, and several fully accessible toilets. Having access to these resources, as well as being a short walk from bus stops and car parking, means that our project is easily accessible for people who may not have their own car.
Currently we are offering the following activities –
- Visual arts
- Nature photography and mindfulness
- Looking after Poundbury’s wildflower meadows (practical management)
- Tai Chi/Yoga
For more information about these different activities go to the project webpage.
Because of the funding we have been able to raise, all of these activities are free for participants and we’re also able to support reasonable travel expenses. The participants will be referred from their GP practice Social Prescribing Officers, through local mental health primary care services, and other organisations such as Dorset MIND. They will already have a mental health diagnosis. We’re taking referrals from across the Mid-Dorset Primary Care Network of GP’s practices, but in practice it’s likely most of them will be from Dorchester or Poundbury. We’re also trying to make activities available to different sections of society so while the majority will be during the day and during the week, we are organising some activities on the weekend and from next Spring there will be evening sessions too.
There will be four sessions for each activity with the first session being an introductory “taster” session. If the participants enjoy the taster session they have the option to continue with a further three. Groups will be small with a maximum of six participants and the activity leaders are a mix of volunteers and paid professionals. We are particularly grateful for the help of Art in Poundbury who are providing a range of different art activities from pencil drawing to pottery.
Each participant will be asked to fill in a simple mental health questionnaire before they start any activities, and after each session. In this way we will be able to gauge changes (hopefully improvements) in their mental health and wellbeing, as a result of the activities they have taken part in. We will also collect date on each participant’s personal attributes (age, gender, ethnicity etc), which will then be anonymised in any analysis.
People Need Nature was created to highlight the value of nature in people’s everyday lives; nature as a source of inspiration and solace, through the sensory, emotional and spiritual value of nature. Our Nature for Wellbeing project hopes to provide some robust evidence that nature, combined with other activities, provides those benefits.
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