Open Aye and Scottish Forestry (former Forestry Commission Scotland) partnered together on the Wellbeing Of the Woods Project (The WOW Project) to provide wellbeing-enhancing, urban forest based participatory photography workshops, to diverse groups in Glasgow, Scotland, across the seasons in 2017 -2019.

56 people, from 16 countries, took part in 120 visits to Glasgow’s largest urban woodland area, Pollok Country Park, and all participants reported improved states of wellbeing. The sessions were designed to use creative practice in a woodland environment. Feedback has shown that the therapeutic effect of this methodology is both transformational and long lasting, on people’s health and wellbeing.

Participants were recruited from partner organisations, including Glasgow Association of Mental Health (GAMH), Scottish Refugee Council (SRC) & The British Red Cross (BRC). All participants in some way had issues with mental ill health, varying from anxiety, depression, learning difficulties to post traumatic stress disorder. The WOW project was designed to provide people with varying needs a safe, natural, creative space in which to help improve their own personal sense of wellbeing.

The WOW project gave people a reason to get out, into the woods, to be active, together. Many people who took part in the WOW project had never accessed the woods before, for this kind of purpose. It was a new experience, which involved physical activity, sensory stimulation, a social gathering and creative mindfulness, facilitated sensitively.

The project followed the New Economic Forum’s 5 Ways to Wellbeing model: Connect, Give, Be Active, Take Notice & Keep Learning. In addition, using creative methodologies in a woodland environment provided a natural sensory stimulation that fostered a calming state of meditative relaxation and invigoration. We feel it is in this particular flow state where transformation can occur, improving personal wellbeing.

The project used a mixture of social action research methods to enquire as to the different groups’ understanding of wellbeing and how it could be enhanced by creative practice in a woodland environment. Sustained benefits of this creative woodland groupwork methodology included strengthening a person’s ability to see things differently, giving a sense of perspective, creating / enhancing / recalling positive memories, fostering interpersonal relationships, improved self-esteem, personal growth and environmental mastery / stewardship.

Wellbeing of the Woods host a feelgood woodland photo walk in Pollok Country Park on Saturday 18th May. Click here for more information on the photo walk. They also host an exhibition in Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum on Saturday 25th May at part of our annual Moving Minds event. Click here for more information about the exhibition.

The Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival is programmed by people from all across Scotland. To celebrate this year’s ‘Connected’ theme, we want to spend the next few weeks introducing you to some of them.

Roisin Robertson is part of the team who put together the Renfrewshire Mental Health Arts Festival, one of our biggest regional programmes….

Where are you from and what do you do?

I’m from Renfrewshire and I’m the Community Link Team Manager in the Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP).

What does ‘Connected’, SMHAF’s theme this year, mean to you?

It’s a great theme for this year, as my job is all about making connections with local community groups and third sector organisations and linking them into all of the work that the HSCP and Council are doing in relation to health and wellbeing. We’ve been talking a lot over the last couple of years about social isolation and loneliness and the importance of developing connections to alleviate these, so being able to put on events that promote connectedness in local communities or have it as a theme is really helpful.

How long have you been putting on events at the festival, and what made you get involved?

I’ve been involved in the Renfrewshire Festival for about ten years – before the formation of the HSCP I worked as a Health Improvement Manager within Renfrewshire Council and so was a good link to the Council and Community Planning structures for my NHS colleague who co-ordinated it back then. The grass-roots aspect of our programme development and the creative approach have been the things that have kept me interested over the years, although the creativity has always been led by my former colleague Jeanette, and now by Sarah Grant who is an arts worker within Health. I tend to be the organiser!

Can you give us an example – more than one if you like - of an event in your area that sums up the spirit of the festival?

One of our partners this year, Active Communities, approached some of the people that they work with to ask what type of event they would like to develop as part of the Festival, and two groups in two different localities of Renfrewshire came up with the idea of a Silent Disco! These will be organised by and attended by local people and their hope is that they will give local communities a feel-good factor and get them thinking about other things that can support their mental wellbeing.

Who or what do you feel most connected to?

I’m lucky to have a big extended family and some really good friends that I feel very connected to. That and my camper van that takes me to some beautiful places in Scotland and beyond!

What are you most looking forward to at this year’s festival?

I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing how lots of the events go this year as I feel as though we’ve really expanded our network of collaborators locally (we have also copyrighted the word ‘collaborjack’ to describe how we collaborate with and hijack some partners and events as part of the Festival!). I’m particularly excited to see how the youth strand of the Festival, ‘Open Mind’, goes, as it has been planned by and will be curated by young people, and they’ve come up with some really interesting events.