Best of Lancashire: How county landcape is helping to heal people's mental health and restore happiness

From coast to country Lancashire's outdoor landscape has become a key to restoring hope and confidence to those troubled by loneliness and lockdown.

By Fiona Finch
Wednesday, 1st December 2021, 4:08 pm

The prescription is nature and Lancashire' s diverse landscapes offer this "medicine" in abundance.

Now innovative project The Bay: A Blueprint for Recovery is harnessing the majesty and beauty of Morecambe Bay.

Other initiatives have led to ongoing projects such as Myplace at Brockholes Nature Reserve at Samlesbury and in the Bowland AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty).

The bay project team

All the initiatives have shown how focused time spent outdoors can change perspectives and bring a new sense of purpose.

The Bay's aim over the next two years is to help communities around the coastline most affected by social isolation during the Covid pandemic. In the longer term it is hoped that the scheme will be rolled out to other coastal communities in the UK experiencing similar problems.

Beach cleaning, rock pooling and nature walks are just some of the outdoor activities participants can get involved in.

Three hubs have been created as project HQs - in Wyre, Morecambe Bay and Barrow-in-Furness.

A chance to connect with the outdoors - rock pool discovery time in Morecambe Bay

The Bay is being funded by the People's Postcode Lottery through its Postcode Recovery Fund and is a collaboration between The WiIdlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside, The Eden project, Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust and the Cumbria Wildlife Trust.

Its participants, include those at risk of social isolation and those with mental health issues, are referred through "social prescribing" by GPs and other health professionals or they can self-refer.

They are given the chance to be creative, develop new skills, learn about the coastal ecosystem and meet others who have chosen to make the same journey, all while getting out and about in the natural environment.

The project has been running for a few months and it is intended that the digital resources created will inspire and engage the wider population too.

Walking around The Bay: a time to pause and celebrate the beauty and richness of local landscapes

A 12 strong team has been recruited and it is predicted that .400 people will be helped by The Bay project and its network of community mentors.

Health experts have welcomed the partnership approach. Kevin O’Hara of Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust said: “Working with the two Wildlife Trusts and the Eden Project in this collaborative way combines the best of both worlds really for those who need this help and support. The Bay team are amazing at helping people to reconnect with nature, and our clinical teams can provide extra mental health support when it is needed.”

Rhoda Wilkinson, nature and wellbeing manager for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside Wildlife Trust said: "We want everyone to experience the amazing and dynamic, yet naturally calming environment of the Bay, feel the benefit of being in nature with like-minded people, and be inspired to take action for nature's recovery."

Holly Stainton, a nature, wellbeing and community trainee with the project, is an enthusiastic advocate for the project. She said :‘I grew up on the Cumbrian coast and love anything sea related - rockpooling,scuba diving, surfing, or just watching the waves. I can't wait to share the power nature has in improving wellbeing, whilst exploring the amazing environment we have in the Bay with participants."

The Bay project provides opportunitites for youngsters to connect with nature too

Across the county in the Forest of Bowland AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) the county's upland landscape has already been inspiring change and helping people navigate what can be troubling times.

The Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership is part of the AONB's work and two of the Partnership's projects have fostered a new awareness of Pendle Hill and the local landscape and the wealth of opportunitites for walking and for watching nature through the seasons.

Jayne Ashe is the Partnership's Community Engagement Officer. She has seen the positive impact of their PEN (People Enjoying Nature) project. The project started in March 2018 and will run until October 2022.

The Partnership teamed up with Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust. Referrals come from different services and it is also possible to self refer.

Jayne said: "Pendle Hill offers opportunity to escape - whether that be our own thoughts or whether that be accessing nature and the outdoors...The partnership between the Trust and ourselves has really made this project so successful. The other big thing is it's been a way for people to meet new people and develop social links with other people in their area."

During lockdown, recognising that people's fitness was declining and isolation increasing, regular walks were arranged. Other activities have included making bird boxes and bird feeders learning about insects, butterflies and bees and helping with practical conservation tasks. Paticipants have been encouraged to use apps like iNaturalist to identify and record different species.

The Curlew Calls one of the 72 Seasons illustrations by Cath Ford

In the depth of lockdown a socially distanced project entitled 72 Seasons proved a timely and suitably socially distant way of accessing the benefits of nature - from a window, garden, yard or on walks. It saw artist Cath Ford commissioned to provide illustrations of changing nature throughout the year, with not just four seasons to focus on but 72 mini seasons as participants were encouraged to closely observe and report back on small changes in nature.

Seasons was devised and delivered by Kirsty Rose-Parker of consultancy The Evaluator with the Pendle Partnership Scheme Manager Cathy Hopley. Kirsty, suffers from SAD (seasonal affective disorder) and was first inspired to develop the idea as a way to cope with the shorter and darker days of winter, inspired by the ancient Japanese concept of 72 micro seasons where, if you look more closely, you can see "seasons" change every four to five days not just four times a year. Some 301 people observed those seasons during lockdown and took its Look Closer message to heart, inspired both by the great outdoors and by Cath's illustrations.

They were asked to look at weather, the skies, wildlife and flowers and if they chose to, to seek answers to questions such as when did the first snowdrops emerge and did spiders' webs glisten at the start of February?

Hetty Byrne, sustainable tourism officer for Bowland knows the AONB, including Pendle , is a rich resource. She said: It's free for everyone to enjoy There's such a wide expanse...it's a very special, beautiful landscape. Especially because of lockdown there's a real reconnecting to the landscape and that real appreciation of what a fantastic natural asset people have on their doorstep. People can avoid the crowds and go an enjoy some time with nature, which is really fantastic."

Meanwhile nearly 1500 people have benefited from Lancashire Wildlife Trust's green wellbeing ecotherapy sessions which have been running at Brockholes Nature Reserve at Samlesbury and other Trust locations for several years.

All these recovery projects will leave a lasting legacy of better health and wellbeing outcomes for local people. That's got to be good news.

For more on The Bay see hereFor more on the Pendle Hill Landscape partnership see hereFor more on the Bowland AONB see here* The Lancashire Post is more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription to support our journalism. For unlimited access to Lancashire news and information online, you can subscribe here.

Part of The First Cherry Blossoms by Cath Ford
Part of Blossom Petals Scatter The Ground by Cath Ford
Artist Cath Ford who created the illustrations for the 72 Seasons project
Part of the Bluebells Carpet The Woods illustration by Cath Ford
Part of the illustration Trees Turn Green Again by Cath Ford
PEN project: Getting empowered by Pendle
The PEN projects have encouraged people to rediscover and savour the joys of the local landscape.