Ecotherapy is essentially all about improving your mental and physical wellbeing by doing activities outdoors in nature, but what happens when your time outside is limited, or you can’t access green spaces easily? In these difficult times, where social distancing and staying at home is becoming the new normal, let’s take a look at what can be done to top up our daily dose of green care.
Here at KentCOG even though volunteers are unable to get to the community garden to work in nature, every individual can still experience nature and the positive effects it has on wellbeing and physical health from home, and so can you. Here’s how, with some of my favourite suggestions from Mind’s Making sense of ecotherapy resource, available online at www.mind.org.uk:
Bring nature into your home environment
Collect natural materials such as leaves, flowers, feathers, tree bark, seeds and anything else that you like to decorate your home and use in art projects.
Create a comfortable space to sit in in your home where you can look out over a view of the sky or a tree.
Grow plants on your windowsills.
Take photos of your favourite places in nature and set them as your phone and computer backgrounds.
Try to do more everyday activity in front of a window so that you can see the sky (for example ironing clothes, chopping vegetables, brushing your teeth, drying dishes or daily exercises).
Download some recordings of your favourite natural sounds such as birdsong or waves.
Try horticulture at home
Create a growing space at home. If you don’t have a garden invest in a window box or plant pot and plant some salad leaves or herbs – even keeping a small container on your windowsill can help.
If you have flower beds try planting some vegetables amongst the flowers. Many varieties of vegetables have attractive flowers for part of the year and might even add to your display.
Put your name down for an allotment or consider sharing one.
Join a local community food growing project if there is one in your area.
Go fruit picking in the countryside, or find out about urban food foraging and get some tasty food for free. For example, in late summer and early autumn you might find lots of wild blackberry bushes growing in urban spaces, and some trees you walk by every day on your street might actually be apple or cherry.
Get close to animals
Go for walks in the countryside by rivers, fields and trees, and look out for wildlife. If you don’t live near open countryside, look out for urban wildlife in your local park, such as squirrels, fish, insects, ducks and other birds.
Go birdwatching by yourself.
Hang a bird feeder outside one of your windows. If you have the space you could build a small roosting box on a tree or under a windowsill so that you can watch baby sparrows or blue tits when they leave the nest. The RSPB provides more information on feeding and sheltering birds.
Think about whether owning a pet would be the right thing for you. Many people find caring for a pet every day brings lots of benefits, but you need to be sure your home environment and personal circumstances would be the right thing for the animal as well as for you. If you don’t own your home, it’s also important to check if you’re allowed pets.
Do your bit for the Environment
Go on a litter picking walk in the park or on the beach.
Plant something outside the front of your home so that everybody who walks by can enjoy it.
Plant flowers for the bees and berry bushes for the birds in your garden.
Build an animal habitat – put up a bird box, create a hedgehog house or create a pond if you have enough space. Even a small pond can offer a home to creatures, such as newts and pond skaters.
Do more activities outdoors
Build a ten minute walk into your day, see if you can plan the route so that you take in a park or river.
If you have a garden create a space in it that you enjoy sitting in, have a picnic with home grown produce.
Sit under a tree in silence for a while, lean back against it and feel it supporting you.
Give yourself a sensory outdoor workout – find things to look at, listen to, taste, smell and touch. For inspiration visit the Let Nature Feed Your Senses website (letnaturefeedyoursenses.org).
Ecotherapy improves mental health, physical health, develops social life, builds confidence, strengthens your connection with nature and helps you practise mindfulness. There are many ways to get involved and more information and support available at mind.org.uk. You can also join in a weekly zoom meeting on Green Spaces KentCOG 2-3pm from my home and see many of these ideas being put into practice. Spaces are limited, to book email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Designed to become a sustainability hub centered on growing food, the Kent Community Oasis Garden (KentCOG) is a collaborative outdoor space for staff and students and members of the local community to use for a range of activities. The garden provides a space for relaxation and learning new skills, as well as growing fruit and vegetables throughout the seasons. The garden is now also home to a new initiative to develop wellbeing and green care.
KentCOG is being developed by the University’s Student Wellbeing team with new partners, East Kent Mind. East Kent Mind will provide opportunities to take part in sessions, peer support activities and workshops with an aim to support and improve mental health and wellbeing.
The garden is located along the Crab and Winkle pathway to the far east of the Canterbury Campus past the Park Wood accommodation. Helping with its design – with an emphasis on accessibility- is Gardeners’ World local expert Mark Lane. Other organisations actively involved with the garden include the Whitstable and Herne Bay Beekeepers group and Kent Union.
Activities in the garden also fit in with several of the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals that the University has pledged to follow.
KentCOG would love to hear from any members of the public with skills in gardening, foraging, design, art, permaculture, and mental health who are interested in helping develop the garden.
I received my placement with Kent Enterprise Trust through the employability points scheme at the University of Kent. I chose to accept the placement offer over others because I was keen to gain some knowledge in environmental work after completing my degree in Biomedical Science. My job title has been Environmental Champion, which seemed perfect for the experience I was looking for.
My first two days were spent in the Kent Community Oasis Garden, where I was given the freedom to complete my own project. Inspiration for my project came from research that I had carried out beforehand and the presence of materials in which I saw potential to be recycled into something environmentally friendly – an insect house. Insect houses encourage biodiversity, certain insects that eat pests in the garden and sometimes pollinators. It therefore, seemed beneficial to create an environment where insects that may increase the yields of the garden can live and breed.
On the first day, I lead two volunteers to collect and assemble the materials needed for the base and structure of the house. It was very rewarding to take my own initiative and guide a group to begin a completely new project. There were no volunteers available to help me on my second day so I completed the rest mostly by myself. I collected rotting wood, bark, bamboo, grass cuttings, leaf litter and other organic materials from all around the garden to arrange in the four layers of the insect house. This meant that whilst I was recycling, I was also tidying the garden a little and removing unwanted items from it. As the structure required hammering nails and sawing wood, I had to learn some new DIY skills. This was also extremely rewarding, as it was the first time that I had carried out any task like this and so it was beneficial for my life-skills and knowledge. I was really happy with the final result and I think it will very likely attract the right insects to help the garden. The volunteers in the garden seemed interested in the insect house and many of them asked me questions and wanted to know about how and why I was building it. I think this is another reason why my project was useful, as it engaged the people that it will hopefully help and raised some awareness of the importance of the ecosystem in the garden.
I spent some time in the office writing up a report for my insect house project. Researching the subject and documenting my work in this way was a useful experience. My report will be used on the charity’s website and used as an example of the benefits the garden has. The fact that my project can be an example of the great work the charity do is very satisfying. The rest of my time was spent organising and packing books for a book sale during a yearly celebration. The funds raised will be used for the community garden.
Overall, my time at Kent Enterprise Trust was productive and valuable and I feel like I have really developed my DIY, leadership and teamwork abilities. I was warmly welcomed into both the garden and office environments and enjoyed discovering how a charity runs and how that affects the beneficiaries. My wish to gain some insight into work involved with the environment was also fulfilled. The experience was rewarding and I definitely feel as though I am more prepared to enter the working world.
I’ve always enjoyed working outside, using my hands, and
being surrounded by nature. I began my Horticulture apprenticeship with Kent
Enterprise Trust on 3rd December 2018, with a view to developing
skills that I might need for the future, and to support the Trust in its
mission to help people get back into work. Working with the Trust has also
given me the opportunity to begin an RHS Level 2 Horticulture Course at Hadlow
College, which would be very beneficial for my future plans to become
self-employed. I believe that gardening and being in a space that is
non-threatening is also extremely helpful in improving people’s self-esteem, as
new skills are constantly being taught and shared.
Although the environment can be
informal, the projects that we are working on are structured and planned so
that we ensure that the garden is always moving towards its full potential. I
personally feel a huge sense of satisfaction when it comes to help building
structures such as the new polytunnel at the Community Oasis Garden site and
sourcing the materials for such tasks.
It is also important that we share
ideas with other community gardens, and this is a skill that the Trust is
helping me to develop. I appreciate the fact that I am able to attend other
gardens and network with like-minded people, and advance my current working
knowledge. A key word that I consider relevant for the Trust is
‘collaboration’, and this is something that is important for its future as a
sustainable space, which is important for the people’s general wellbeing and