The impact of the current lockdown on mental wellbeing is well documented. People are social animals and lack of contact with family and friends is taking its toll on many. Those with pre-existing mental health conditions have often been particularly hard-hit and the impact on mental health services is already being felt.
At the same time, lockdown has offered many people time to re-engage with the natural world. Everyday life for most of us has become quieter and slower. Those with gardens have grasped the opportunity to be out of doors. Sales of seeds, grow-bags and garden tools have rocketed and home-schooled children have been watching their beans and sunflowers grow. Even those without gardens have found themselves observing the trees coming into leaf and the birds becoming bolder. Government-sanctioned exercise provides updates on the progression of the spring flowers, or even, in cities, the weeds growing through the cracks in the pavement which are now being labelled by guerrilla gardeners!
The benefits of spending time in green spaces are now widely recognised. Both mental and physical wellbeing are enhanced by contact with the natural world. Personal accounts of such experiences continue to be published, academic work provides clear evidence. Hospital patients are discharged sooner if they can see trees through the window rather than a brick wall. For many people, nature will have been a life-saver during the dark days of lockdown.
Muddy Fork, Retford’s ‘gardening for wellbeing’ project based at the Idle Valley Nature Reserve, is of course currently unable to provide a service. Groups are suspended and the worker furloughed. The garden, however, is being maintained by volunteers in the expectation that work will resume in due course and will be needed more than ever.
Muddy Fork participants whose mental health has been adversely affected by lockdown conditions will be glad to return, get to work, and meet up with others. New referrals can be expected given the downturn in wellbeing felt by many. The project also hopes that its corporate wellbeing days will be increasingly used by businesses whose employees have appreciated access to nature during the lockdown period. All this however is dependent on the project’s financial survival. Fundraising possibilities are currently limited: many grant-giving bodies are not accepting applications, and the small donations from groups, clubs and individuals which have helped sustain the project have largely dried up.
Muddy Fork trustees are monitoring developments closely and providing updates on their website, www.muddyfork.org. They will be pleased to hear from supporters, donors and referrers, though referrals cannot actually be progressed at the moment. To get in touch, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.