Natural opportunities for health
By Jim Mitchell
Interpretation and Outreach Manager, New Forest National Park Authority
We are lucky to be blessed with lots of nature-rich and accessible greenspace in the Green Halo area, including the open space of the New Forest and an extensive network of footpaths, bridleways, country parks, urban parks, coastline and woods in the wider area.
We know that access to greenspace and ‘bluespace’ (rivers, lakes and the sea) is a key factor in determining a healthy community, which is why the Green Halo Partnership is keen to support and develop initiatives that recognise, utilise and invest in the ‘natural health capital’ that we have.
The environment sector and health sector have been working together over the past few years to help realise the opportunities for health that the natural capital of the area provides.
Recently in the New Forest, the Clinical Commissioning Group, National Park Authority and New Forest District Council worked with the NHS to develop thinking on how people can be ‘socially prescribed’ time in nature or helping nature in the New Forest.
The NHS has committed to supporting new link workers, employed by clusters of GP surgeries, and the new link workers have been learning about and actively engaging people with the New Forest and opportunities in nature such as art, walking, cycling and volunteering.
Volunteering is an especially good way to help people with their all round health and wellbeing, as well as helping those who are lonely or socially isolated as it is a proven way to make new friends. The 10th Annual New Forest National Park Volunteer Fair is being held on Sunday 26 January in Lyndhurst Community Centre, which will highlight over 50 different groups which offer hundreds of opportunities to volunteer. People can just come along and it would be great for local businesses and organisations to promote this to their own employees and contacts. People can just turn up anytime between 10.30am and 4pm.
Over the past few months we have seen two new wild play sites for children open in the New Forest, in Sway and Ashurst, to complement one which opened in Holbury in 2018.
These permanent sites have been developed with the local community (part-funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund) and allow local people to spend time playing and connecting to nature on their doorstep. Larger wild play events have also taken place, where around 2,000 people have enjoyed active time with their family outdoors at Milford on Sea, near Brockenhurst and also near Bransgore.
A range of other projects are underway including:
- art-based activity to help mental health, with hArt at the National Trust’s Foxbury site in the north of the Forest
- multiple inclusive cycling events near Burley with the charity Pedall which we established
- hundreds of hours spent at organised health walks across the Forest.
Partners are also planning a major health, wellbeing and national parks conference to take place in Bournemouth on 20 May 2020.
Get in touch!
This activity is just the tip of the iceberg and we are keen to hear about what you are up to and any ideas you have about how we can work together to benefit local communities and visitors to the Green Halo area.