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The Great Outdoors Malpas project is bringing people closer to nature

PUBLISHED: 10:45 09 September 2016 | UPDATED: 14:09 08 March 2017

Beekeeping at Bickley Hall Farm

Beekeeping at Bickley Hall Farm

Gemma Sproston

Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s Gemma Sproston explains how the charity’s project in Malpas is helping older people at risk of isolation keep in touch with the wild world.

Brightlife is helping people connect with natureBrightlife is helping people connect with nature

When you’re feeling the pressure or are under the weather, do you ever take time out to picture yourself elsewhere? A place where you feel instantly better? If you’re now thinking of your go-to ‘happy place’ as you read this, I’d be willing to wager many of you picked somewhere outdoors – a spot by the sea, a verdant forest, or a wild woodland, perhaps.

I’d be surprised if many of you imagined yourself indoors, bathed in the blue glow from your mobile phone or television. And yet so many of us spend a great deal of our working (and social) lives in front of a screen of some sort, whether that’s the one at our desk, in our living room or in the palm of our hand.

But it’s not good for us to spend great amounts of time indoors, by ourselves, staring for long periods at screens. In an increasingly urban and digital society, there is recognition that we’re becoming more isolated as individuals and more remote from the natural environment. And as a consequence, we’re suffering from increased mental health problems and obesity problems.

Cheshire Wildlife Trust is often calling on people to do more to help us protect our local wildlife, and a huge focus of our work is encouraging people to appreciate the intrinsic value of nature. So, how can nature help us in terms of our physical and mental health and wellbeing?

Birdwatchers at Whixhall MossBirdwatchers at Whixhall Moss

While it may seem obvious to us who love wildlife and being outside, there is an increasing body of research that shows that spending time outdoors and enjoying nature is good for us.

Studies have shown that having access to green spaces and spending time outdoors has a positive effect on our psychological wellbeing, and can improve our recovery from stress, protect us from future stress and better our concentration.

That’s why we’re really pleased to have launched our very first health and wellbeing project at the Trust, with an aim to help people rediscover the physical, mental and social benefits of being outside with nature.

The Great Outdoors Malpas project was launched earlier this year, thanks to a £50,000 contract from Brightlife – a Big Lottery-funded partnership set up to reduce loneliness and social isolation among over 50s in Cheshire West and Chester.

Through this new initiative we’re helping older people to access the countryside, connect with nature, learn new skills and make new friends, in and around Malpas where our wildlife-friendly headquarters is based.

The core of this particular year-long project centres on social prescribing. This provides GPs with a non-medical referral option that can operate alongside existing treatments to improve health and wellbeing. Instead of popping pills, patients are given a dose of ‘vitamin N(ature)’ and are offered a natural alternative to medicine: a wildlife walk, painting and photography, beekeeping, gardening or perhaps the chance to do some conservation work.

We’re currently running wildlife photography and landscape painting sessions, and a range of birdwatching groups. We’ve also co-ordinated an ‘Introduction to Beekeeping’ course, with the aim of creating a group of volunteers who can manage the bee hives we now have at Bickley Hall Farm, and thanks to its success will be looking to run more of these over the next few months – all free of charge.

Other plans in the pipeline include guided wildlife walks, minibus trips out for those with restricted mobility, canal boat trips in the autumn, and wildlife gardening to support elderly people struggling to manage their own plots.

These so-called ‘green prescriptions’ have long been the norm in New Zealand, as well as in some parts of Australia and the United States, and they’re becoming increasingly popular in the UK. By connecting people with nature, and each other, through projects such as Great Outdoors Malpas, we hope to help people live fulfilling lives and to give them access to more real-life ‘happy places’.

For more information on the Great Outdoors Malpas project please contact Anne Brenchley on 07970 387017 (Tuesday to Thursday) or Cheshire Wildlife Trust on 01948 820728 (Monday to Friday).

Brighten up your life

Brightlife – the organisation set up to improve the lives of older people in Cheshire West and Chester – is hosting a week of fantastic events and activities for the over-50s as part of its annual Brightlife Festival, held between September 26th and October 2nd 2016.

Over the course of the festival week, Brightlife and its partners will be encouraging older people to get involved with a huge range of events including:

A ‘Crafty Wildlife Narrowboat Adventure with Cheshire Wildlife Trust and Community Compass’ (Monday September 26th) – a chance to take to the water and combine your love for nature with your creative talents.

A ‘Strictly’-themed Tea Dance (Thursday September 29th, 1-3pm, Oddfellows Hall, Saltney, CH4 8SG) – held by the local Oddfellows friendship group, this free festival event will include a delicious afternoon tea of cakes and treats, with traditional and modern dancing led by the Rose School of Dance.

A special Brightlife parade for the Chester Pride march (Saturday October 1st, Castle Square, Chester) – walk, dance and cheer with us to show your support for the older LGBT community in Cheshire West and Chester.

‘Silver Sunday’ (Sunday October 2nd) – a day of fun ‘taster’ activities held across the borough, to encourage older people to try something new.

A mini film festival featuring ‘Ten Films to Brighten Your Life’ – as voted for by you.
The festival week coincides with National Older People’s Day on October 1st, when events will be taking place across the country to celebrate older people and later life.

To get involved or to find out more about what’s on during the week, visit the Brightlife website at www.brightlifecheshire.org.uk or call the Brightlife office on 01606 844444.

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