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The latest stories from Inspiring Scotland and our partner charities.

Every one can benefit from using nature to support mental health


Inspiring Scotland works with some of the most innovative charities in Scotland today. This Mental Health Awareness Week focuses on the power of nature – so we’re sharing our key learnings from the projects we work with on how to use nature to improve mental health and wellbeing of new parents, children, young people, leaders and the wider community.

Better maternal and paternal mental health through nature

Scottish Government’s Perinatal and Infant Mental Health Fund works with several charities across Scotland that support parents, carers and infants who are experiencing mental health problems. Many of these charities make use of outdoor space, like Barnardo’s Scotland, which is on a journey to enhance their skills and confidence to provide therapeutical support outdoors through the B-Wild project.

Maureen McAteer from Barnardo’s Scotland explains: “In our Threads ‘Growing Together’ perinatal service, we are currently creating a green space outside of our service base, as we know this can help parents-to-be, new parents and their infants reduce cortisol levels and boost serotonin. Our staff are supporting small groups of families to access free local natural resources in their neighbourhoods.”

Looking after the wellbeing of parents and our littlest members of society is enormously important for their social and emotional wellbeing, now and in the future. From the moment a baby is born, positive, loving and responsive relationships are really important to help them feel happy and loved and to support healthy brain development as they get older. The Parent Club Scotland website has lots of tips and resources to help carers interact with their wee ones: “The more time and love you give them the better, don’t worry about molly-coddling them. You can’t spoil a baby with love and attention”.

The benefits of getting children outdoors

Thrive Outdoors works to embed outdoor play and learning into the fabric of Scottish lives so that all young people can thrive.

Getting outdoors has so many benefits for young people. We spoke with some of our Early Learning and Childcare practitioners about the power of outdoor play and learning in helping children to develop their self-esteem and develop a deeper connection with nature.

‘We had a child who struggled to cope in the nursery environment. It was different for him to interact with peers as he preferred solitary play. Since being outdoors in the woodlands he has started making friends, which has increased his self-esteem and confidence. He is becoming more vocal and looks forward to seeing his friends from the other nursery.

‘The children have become more aware of the natural environment. They began caring for tadpoles and watching them grow. When the water was low in the rock pool, the children added water to it to help them to survive. They also learned about the heron, ducks and ducklings, and different plant life.

Bringing nature into mentoring

Scotland’s national mentoring programme intandem supports young people who are looked after at home to develop long-lasting, trusting relationships with volunteer mentors. These relationships help  young people feel supported, build self-confidence and reduce feelings of isolation – something that became particularly crucial over the past year.

To leverage the power of nature, intandem began running outdoor meet-ups, which played a crucial role in helping mentoring relationships thrive during lockdown. As COVID restrictions prevented meeting inside, getting together outdoors became a lifeline. Mentors and young people bonded at outdoor meet-ups by spending time in nature: going for walks, visiting parks, and exploring local areas.

Emma,* a young person mentored through intandem, discovered a love of walking and nature photography when she started walking to historic sites during lockdown with her mentor, Ava.* Mentor Jo from Kirkcaldy YMCA took her Ghillie Kettle along on walks, encouraging her mentee to get out of her comfort zone and light the fire so the pair could enjoy hot chocolate by the river.

By engaging together outdoors, young people and their mentors were able to grow their relationships, while also enjoying the vital mental health benefits that nature can bring. The power of nature to help people connect should not be underestimated!

Nature and art connection in the community

Connecting Craigmillar, part of the Link Up portfolio, secured funding through Creative Scotland’s Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival to create ‘Breath of Fresh Air’ – a professionally facilitated series of writing and sketching workshops in three outdoor locations around Craigmillar throughout May.

The sketching sessions focus on togetherness, being outdoors in nature, and a non-judgmental approach to drawing and watercolour painting, as well as the contemplative side of looking, seeing and responding in a sketchbook, which can be so beneficial to mental health and wellbeing.

The power of nature in supporting leaders

Its incredibly important for charity leaders to make time to connect with nature to support their mental health. As part of IS’s remit, we also work to support charity management and staff to become more resilient leaders.

Justine Murray, a member of our specialist volunteer network began doing coaching in nature. “We are hardwired to connect with nature, so when we do, we re-connect with ourselves. We often get stuck in ‘thinking’ mode and connecting with nature helps people to explore feelings, instincts and the body, as well as our thoughts.”

Securing a green heritage for our future: The Islands Green Recovery Fund

At Inspiring Scotland we’re also looking towards the future, to ensure the next generation has the opportunity to benefit from nature and our green spaces. One key initiative is the Scottish Government’s Islands Green Recovery Programme, which supported projects focused on active and low carbon transport, food sustainability and zero waste projects. Through this fund we’ve supported 21 initiatives that range from locally sourced food to seaweed faming to environmentally-friendly toiletries for B&Bs.

These projects all reflect a long-term aim for a greener, more sustainable future, but we’re already beginning to see some of the benefits from this work.

For example one of our projects was the development of a costal path linking the historical and crofting communities of Point and Sandwick on the Isle of Lewis. Improving access around the Point peninsula was key to fostering better appreciation, enjoyment and understanding of the natural environment, as well as the flora and fauna of the area. At the same time, developing the pathway helped reduce traffic and made the area accessible for those with mobility issues, promoting better health and wellbeing for all.

We are incredibly proud of the work our funds and partner charities do to support the people of Scotland’s mental health. Collectively we all must continue to keep the conversation going on mental health -sharing stories, tips and any key learnings to help make Scotland a better, happier and more inclusive place for everyone.

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