It’s great to see that this year’s theme for Mental Health Awareness Week is ‘Nature’. Here at ActivLives we can see how our Community Garden Projects, the People’s Community Garden, Chantry Walled Garden and our Sudbury Project have helped our staff and volunteers to cope through the Covid-19 pandemic. From the first lockdown in March 2020, we were able to keep the People’s Community Garden and Chantry Walled Garden operating with bubbles of one staff and a small team of dedicated volunteers. They helped maintain the gardens, nurture our plants, keep an eye on our lovely Bees and support each other.

Quote from a volunteer at the People’s Community Garden, “Being able to come to the garden has helped me to cope with my anxiety and depression. Although worried to begin with, seeing the staff and other volunteers and knowing I am helping others in the community, has helped me get through the pandemic and the lockdowns.”

Through the lockdowns it was reported that being outside, going for walks, gardening and even watching wildlife webcams helped people to cope with the pandemic and connect with nature more. We even saw on the news how wildlife managed to creep back into the towns and villages when us humans weren’t around.  Nature is central to our psychological and emotional health, not forgetting our physical health as well, and its not just being in nature that helps but how we interact, connect with it that counts.

ActivLives is working in partnership with the NSFT Woodlands Unit and Recovery College to do just that. During Mental Health Awareness Week, we are working with the NSFT Woodlands Unit to support activities and walks with service users to help them connect with nature and to inform them of activities they can continue to do in the local community. We are also working with NSFT Recovery College on a webinar ‘Connecting with Nature,’ which hopefully will be part of their Webinar Programme very shortly.

Our Community Gardens in Ipswich and the Sudbury Project are slowly opening up to more people as restrictions ease, as well as all our other activities such as health walks, ActivSport sessions, Step by Step falls prevention sessions, Specialist Hubs and outdoor singing groups.

How can we all connect with nature?

Stop – look around and use your senses to connect – see the colours, patterns, smell the flowers, listen to the wind, look up at the sky, the patterns of the clouds. Just sit outside, close your eyes and listen. This can help reduce anxiety and a simple way to connect more deeply with the natural world around you.

Grow your own – grow some seeds on a window ledge and watch how they grow… When they have grown plant them in your garden or in a container on a balcony or in a back yard. Watching and helping them grow is a great way to connect with nature.

Get to know your houseplants – you don’t have to have a garden to bring nature indoors. Sit and look at your houseplants, study the leaves, patterns, colours and the flowers.

Start bird watching – in the park, on a walk, log how many different birds visit your garden.

Photographs – you can connect with nature looking through photos you have taken of trips and adventures. Some national parks also offer ‘virtual tours’ and there are lots of wildlife webcams you can join.

Artwork – paint, print, draw – take time to capture nature on paper, make collages, press flowers, look at the shapes, texture, pattern on leaves, look at the plants growing in the verges or in holes in the pavements – they are all important to nature.

Getting your hands dirty – gardening, planting plants. If you are planting out your seedlings, take time to feel the soil, notice its texture and smell. It’s good to get your hands dirty, but make sure you wash them well afterwards…

Take time to connect with Nature this week and beyond.


A group of ActivLives volunteers tend to a public garden in Sudbury

ActivLives volunteers work to improve the community garden space in Sudbury

The colourful entrance to the People’s Communty Garden where the produce and flowers grown is on sale to the public.

An ActivLives volunteer stands in the green house at Chantry Walled Garden

Our volunteer David working at the Chantry Walled garden, helping to ensure the flowers are ready for display throughout Ipswich parks.