For the past year, I have been working as a trainee on the Myplace project. I applied for the traineeship after seeing project staff talk at Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s volunteer conference. The talk was a revelation for me. I watch wildlife and go on hikes, not just for fun and fitness, but because it makes me feel better. Calmer, grounded, and better connected. But I didn’t know this was an actual, scientifically-evidenced *thing*. A thing called ecotherapy. A technique that improves wellbeing in people of any age, helps people grow skills, and has positive side effects (like encouraging people to look after their local greenspaces). I was re-training for a career in the environmental sector when the traineeships were advertised, having left a role in Higher Education student support in 2016. The opportunity seemed like a perfect combination, involving conservation, employability, and wellbeing.
A large part of my role has been delivering Myplace “hub” sessions. These are weekly 2-3 hour long sessions held at greenspaces throughout the region, including Brockholes Nature Reserve, Grange Community Gardens in Preston, and Duxbury Woods in Chorley. I have mainly worked with unemployed adults who want to grow their skills, make new friends, and build up the confidence to move on to employment or further training. I’ve delivered a whole range of outdoor practical activities based upon five themes of ecotherapy: conservation, nature walks, bushcraft, growing, and mindfulness. I’ve also seen first-hand the effects of working outdoors on participants’ mental health: they report improved sleep, reduced side effects from medication, reduced social anxiety, and greater confidence in their own abilities.