15 Nov 2021

Field Notes: Riding the wave

John Muir Award Officer Emily Button reflects on how organisations across England are taking action to harness the power of nature connection to promote positive action for mental health and wellbeing.

Wave Rangers in Devon - John Muir Award provider

The idea of nature and wild places having a positive impact on people, specifically on their wellbeing is nothing new. John Muir himself said: “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.”

For those experiencing poor mental health, the road ahead can feel dark, lonely and without hope. Working towards a brighter future can seem out of reach, so support from leaders, organisations and communities is essential for them to feel able to take that first ‘step’ into nature, a step often much more challenging or inaccessible without support.

Health and wellbeing is central to the work of many of our John Muir Award Providers, partners and supporters. They use our environmental award scheme to inspire people of all backgrounds to connect with nature, encouraging active lifestyles and responsible recreation, whilst improving mental health and wellbeing to help both people and nature to flourish.

In Devon, the Wave Rangers project is an entirely free, all year-round project working with 10-20 year olds to develop their environmental awareness, help tackle climate change, volunteer in community projects, learn new skills, have fun, and make new friends. The project has had excellent feedback from those involved.

Just being in the fresh air helps a lot. I try to do it as much as I can myself, but having this [Wave Rangers], to tell me you're going out, you’re going to do something, I’m like yeah... It’s been a long tough road, I’ve got many issues, I’ve been bullied throughout my entire life and I’ve finally found this place and it's where I feel accepted and happy and it's honestly the best I’ve ever been.

  – Wave Rangers Participant

The project supports individuals from all walks of life to connect with nature. Wave Ranger leader Sarah Jellard says: “We have so many young people who have been referred on from the NHS, GP surgeries, social workers, young offenders, children who are in foster care, children who are adopted, children who are grieving”.

The activities undertaken by the Wave Rangers align with Five Ways to Wellbeing (a model developed by the New Economics Foundation in 2010), which outlines five evidenced-based actions you can incorporate into your life to improve health and wellbeing:

  • Connect
  • Be active
  • Take notice
  • Keep learning
  • Give something back

These five actions are easily incorporated into the John Muir Award’s Four Challenges (Discover, Explore, Conserve and Share) and act as a supportive framework for encouraging positive action for mental health.

John Muir Award Providers Andy and James from Education Health & Wellbeing CIC, inspire individuals to reach their full potential through the experience of adventure. Their suite of guided, wellbeing-based, inclusive programmes use adventures in the outdoors, however big or small, to promote mental health, self-efficacy, connectedness, conservation and community to help create positive mindsets. Their moto “Creating mindsets, not mountaineers” reinforces that it’s not the destination that is important, but the value of the experience that the journey brings.

The Wave Rangers and Education, Health & Wellbeing CIC (along with many other organisations across the UK) are providing valuable services for people from all walks of life to connect with nature and improve their health and wellbeing. Projects such as these can have transformative and long-lasting impacts on the people they work with, they truly are an inspiration!

Hand with flowers - David Lintern

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