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.