An inspiring arts project has shown the power of National Parks to boost mental health and wellbeing.
People from across the region have taken part in Timescape – a series of workshops helping participants to learn ancient arts and craft techniques, all in the beautiful and tranquil surrounds of the South Downs National Park.
The free sessions, delivered by Havant-based charity Artscape, took place at Amberley Museum in West Sussex and Butser Ancient Farm, near Waterlooville, in Hampshire.
The participants were experiencing loneliness and isolation and had the chance to meet up, share stories, and get hands-on with cordaging, felting, weaving, painting, and pottery.
An exhibition of all their amazing artwork and craftsmanship took place at New Park Centre in Chichester.
Clare Grover, from Bishop’s Waltham, Hampshire, made a collection of pots and wet-felt hats and was full of praise about the impact of the project on her wellbeing.
She said: “It’s just been so rewarding. This has given me my confidence back and it’s encouraged me so much that I now go back to Butser to volunteer every week.”
Adrian Mundy, from Portsmouth, made a set of spoons from birch wood. He said: “I’m an environmental artist and this has given me the opportunity to try some more primitive craft techniques.”
Graham Hearn, from Worthing, said: “Nature is my medicine – it’s better than any antidepressant. It’s been wonderful to be part of this project and I’ve met some great people.”
The project is part of the National Park’s ‘natural health’ strategy. Its first Health and Wellbeing Strategy was published three years ago, setting out a vision to connect more people with nature to help improve both mental and physical health.
The plans include working with GPs, healthcare and community-based providers to deliver more opportunities for “green social prescribing”. A GP or social prescriber may refer a patient for non-clinical services that boost health, such as walking or cycling in the South Downs, becoming involved in arts-based activities or surveying wildlife.
The long-term strategy also identifies priority areas in the region where the Authority will work with communities, partners and healthcare providers to help more people discover the wellness benefits of the National Park.
Mandie Molyneux, Director of Artscape, said: “Doing this arts project in the National Park has been phenomenal – who wouldn’t feel uplifted and empowered by being in this amazing space!”
Anne Rehill, who manages the National Park’s people, health and wellbeing work, said: “National Parks contribute to the mental and physical health of the nation, providing a place for escape, adventure, enjoyment, inspiration and reflection.
“The benefits of green spaces for health are well-researched and, with the right resources, National Parks have the potential to really expand our ‘natural health service’ to support the amazing work of the NHS.
“The impact on the people who have participated in this project has been life-changing in some cases and I’m humbled by the fact that our funding has made such a difference.”
Timescape will take place again this year, with sessions at Butser Ancient Farm and Fishbourne Roman Palace. The project is aimed at those experiencing loneliness and isolation who would like to meet new people and be creative. To register your interest please email email@example.com The deadline to apply is 5pm on 4 March.
For more details on the National Park’s work, including information for healthcare professionals, visit www.southdowns.gov.uk/health-and-wellbeing/