Nature as medicine: Lancashire health and wildlife trusts team up to ensure pioneering prescriptions improve mental health

Andy Clist now volunteers for Myplace
Andy Clist now volunteers for Myplace

Fiona Finch discovers how a partnership between Lancashire Wildlife Trust and a local health trust has helped more than 1,000 people on the route to better mental health by offering outdoor activities in venues such as Brockholes Nature Reserve.

Come to Myplace and your mental health could improve.

It’s an unusual invitation and for many people it has been an unexpected one ...but it has proved truly transformative.

Andy Clist believes Myplace saved his life.

It has helped David Stringfellow following unexpected bereavement.

Myplace enabled Simon Melling to overcome social isolation and has given Curtis McKenley an enduring passion for environmental work and the outdoors.

For others, such as unemployed Carol Driver, it gives them a reason to get up and out and something to look forward to each week.

Myplace is a pioneering eco-therapy project run by the Lancashire Wildlife Trust in partnership with the Lancashire Care Foundation Trust.

Its founders recognise there are no magic wands to ease away the difficulties of life. They have, however, a passionate belief in the restorative power of nature and the friendships and confidence which can be developed through participting in eco projects.

Myplace recently hit a milestone moment - it has now helped more than 1,000-plus participants.

It marked that moment on Mental Health Awareness Day with a special information sharing celebration at Brockholes Nature Reserve at Samlesbury on the outskirts of Preston.

The event showcased the range of activities participants - who are referred by their doctor, or may self refer after learning about Myplace at Job Centres and other avenues, can participate in.

It was also a chance for those helped by the programme to share their experiences.

Andy Clist, 51, from Chorley, said: “I started out as a participant i nFebruary 2018. I had been suffering with severe mental health problems through 2017. I was going through the normal course of treatments available through the NHS and one of the suggestions made to me was to come and take part in this project - so I’ve been coming ever since. I don’t mean to be so frank, but it saved my life.

“Steadily, with the help of the activities, my mental health has improved. It’s been a significant contributing factor. I’ll be forever grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to take part in this.”

He has now become a project volunteer and has been helping with Myplace for a year.

For Prestonian Curtis McKenley, 18, who is also a volunteer after benefiting from the programme himself, it has opened new doors and he now volunteers at other sites. Curtis said: “I’ve got autism so it’s hard for me to make friends. I just want to give something back the people who’ve helped me.

“I was quite alone and anti-social. When I first came I didn’t take to going outside and getting all cold and wet. But everyone was friendly and very chatty and it all sprang from there.There are so many things I’ve got out of it.”

David Stringfellow, 57, from Preston, was at a low point after his much loved wife died within days of being diagnosed with cancer.The Job Centre staff suggested he try Myplace. He recalled: “I was a bit dubious at first.”

He went home after his first day and looked at his wife’s picture and wondered: “Would she be proud of me?” While he stresses his grief has not gone he knows she would be proud: “I miss her so much. I’m glad I’m here.”

* Myplace is funded by the National Lottery Community Fund and the European Social Fund. There are Myplace weekly meetings in Preston, Chorley, West Lancashire and East Lancashire. The ecotherapy has five key themes - wildlife walking, bushcraft, growing projects, practical conservation work and mindful environments.The aim is to help young people, the unemployed and over 50s, benefit local communities and improve the environment. while also helping individual participants improve their mental health and wellbeing. News of its success is inspiring organisations in other parts of the country to set up similar projects.

* To learn more about the Myplace project see: https://www.lancswt.org.uk/our-work/projects/myplace