Nigel Boldero- volunteer at Blickling Hall gardens

The impact of the pandemic on health- especially mental health- seems likely to be a long term issue. But in recent months many people have discovered the power of nature to help cope with the stresses and strains, and the result is that nature -based projects have seen demands rise and new opportunities for creativity. A new initiative is hoping to use this growth to further promote ‘green care’ across Norfolk, England.

So what is ‘Green Care’?

It covers a wide range of activities and settings, from walking in the countryside to gardening and other activities with a specific aim to improve someone’s health- see the diagram below.

How has the pandemic affected Green Care?

Iris Van Zon, who runs Clinks Care Farm, near Beccles says:

‘During lockdown there were many people offering to volunteer with us, and some of those are still volunteering with us today. The feedback we had from these volunteers and our existing volunteers is that it kept them staying positive and focussed.‘

Clinks Care Farm arranged for all activities to take place outdoors, and so were able to open up their day service at the end of May, a lot earlier than other providers. Farm helpers benefited enormously from attending the care farm again with stimulating outdoor activities.  ‘It really has improved people’s physical and mental health’ says Iris.

And it doesn’t end there. The pandemic seems to have stimulated a greater interest in fresh local produce, direct from the grower. As a result of increased demand, Clinks Care Farm have doubled the amount of veg they grow. Iris feels ‘People have started to think differently about food and where their food comes from.’

Clinks Care Farm

And what about the birds?

Many people have noticed how much quieter it has been in recent months, and this creates space for natural sounds like bird song and the wind through trees and grasses.  The Homesounds project encourages everyone, particularly young people, to become active ‘environmental listener’s for the benefit of their creativity, health and education. Founder and Director of Recast Music Education Martin Scaiff, which runs Homesounds says:

‘The imposition of the Lockdown encouraged us to develop our online activities. We began running live-stream sound-walks, broadcasting through the HomeSounds youtube channel. As a consequence we reached a much greater audience and had a significant impact on the well-being of those who joined us, from all over the UK and beyond. We were also able to deliver a limited number of in-person sound-walks at various sites across the County. Some of the feedback includes:

‘Walking silently was really hard but almost acted like a detox for my mind’.

‘The experience was really intriguing, calming and enjoyable. It made me respect the environment and wildlife we heard even more’.

‘I loved the experience and it felt amazing to be surrounded by wildlife’.’

Streaming Nature with Homesounds

And gardening has also boomed with a third of a million Britons visiting the Royal Horticultural Society website for advice, seed companies seeing a 600% increase in sales and a recent poll showing that 7 in 10 of us think gardening has helped our mental health.

What is Norfolk Green Care Network?

Norfolk Green Care Network is a new collaboration of over 150 organisations, projects and people across the County that is hoping to build on this new wave of engagement with nature. Nigel Boldero, an initiator of the Network says:

‘There is a strong and growing body of evidence that shows Green Care’s positive impact on personal and community wellbeing. The government has recently announced an investment in pilot projects to promote ‘green social prescribing’ which is all about relieving pressure on the NHS and providing effective options to complement traditional medicine. We want the Network to help build and develop these opportunities across Norfolk and to promote engaging with nature more generally.’

The Network is holding its first get together on Monday 2nd November at The Nurture Project near Fakenham, a project run by Carlyn Kilpatrick that provides a range of gardening and nature -based activities with a clear therapeutic aim. Nigel says:

‘This event, for a limited number of people, will allow us to hear about the wonderful work Carlyn and her team are doing, share ideas and discuss the next steps for the Network.’

The Network has a new website and its activities will eventually include giving online and other training and support to those involved in providing green care, as well as promoting green care in areas that lack access to it.

Old School Gardener