MENTAL HEALTH // Ecotherapy with Branching Out

Branching Out Aberdeen - base camp - Hazelhead woods

If you go down to the woods today.. Well, I'm not sure what you might find.

But if you go down to the woods (Hazelhead woods, to be precise) on a Monday you're sure to find a gang of us hiding among the trees, busy 'Branching Out'. 

A collaboration between NHS Scotland and the Forestry Commission, Branching Out is a twelve week programme of woodland activities that seeks to promote "positive mental health through nature." Specifically aimed at people who have struggled with their mental health, we come together each week to connect with each other and connect with nature, reaping the benefits of being around people who "get it" and the proven benefits of being in and engaging with the great outdoors. 

Coming under the banner of 'Ecotherapy' - which Mind defines as "a wide range of treatment programmes which aim to improve your mental and physical well-being through doing outdoor activities in nature," - the Branching Out programme has been seen to increase physical activity, provide structure and routine, develop social skills, improve mental well-being, teach transferable skills, and lead to self-reported improvements in confidence and self-esteem. That's not bad going for three hours of the best fun you're likely to have in a week! 

Branching Out Aberdeen - ecotherapy - campfire

For me, personally, some of these things have definitely been true. Branching Out came about at the ideal time for me, during that transition from hospital to community, and has helped me to reconnect with the wider world, getting used to being around new people again and contributing to a sense of structure in my week. Most of all, it's given me a real sense of enjoyment and a buzz from getting to do things I wouldn't ordinarily have the chance to do. It seems ironic that it should take place on a Monday because it's quickly become my favourite part of the week! 

The programme itself is built upon four layers of activity: physical activity; conservation; bushcraft and environmental art. In addition to this, we're (hopefully) working towards the John Muir Award, which asks that we "discover a wild place, explore it, conserve it and share our experiences."

Branching Out Aberdeen - ecotherapy - kelly kettle
Branching Out Aberdeen - ecotherapy - kelly kettle

In the five weeks that have passed so far, we've been busy with all sorts of activities within these categories. Before anything else can get under-way, we begin each week by lighting a Kelly Kettle (or three) for an all-important cup of tea or coffee. Once suitably caffeinated, we've been busy scoping out and creating a little base-camp, clearing the forest floor and arranging ourselves a fire pit and tree-stump table and chairs. We've learned how to tie knots and put up a tarpaulin in case of rain; made our own saw-horse; and have been cutting back some overgrown trees and using their branches to weave hurdles (fences) around the site. We've been gathering endless kindling, lighting lots of campfires and cooking food over them - anything ranging from foraged-nettle soup to toasted marshmallows and tin-foil baked potatoes. On a more arty note, we've been "framing nature" in a gallery made of branches, highlighting pieces that capture our attention; and we roughly made and bound our own notebooks to use as weekly journals, documenting the experience.  There is much to document and all of it's been pretty darn good! 

Branching Out Aberdeen - ecotherapy - environmental art

In coming weeks there has been talk of plant identification; a large, collaborative piece of environmental art; more fire (ALL of the fire!); a spot of whittling; possible bouldering and canoeing adventures; and an open day to share it all with friends. I'm excited for what's ahead and will be very very sad when the programme is over and done! 

There's something incredibly powerful about experiencing nature up close and I'm very thankful to have been given the opportunity to be a part of something which recognises that, harnesses it and equips me with the skills to better engage with it myself moving on. 

So much fun! 

"All that the sun shines on is beautiful, so long as it is wild." - John Muir

Branching Out Aberdeen - ecotherapy - lighting campfire
Branching Out Aberdeen - ecotherapy - lighting campfire
Branching Out Aberdeen - ecotherapy - tarpaulin knots
Branching Out Aberdeen - ecotherapy - tarpaulin knots
Branching Out Aberdeen - ecotherapy - bread making
Branching Out Aberdeen - ecotherapy - bread making campfire
Branching Out Aberdeen - ecotherapy - cooked plum
Branching Out Aberdeen - ecotherapy
Branching Out Aberdeen - ecotherapy - building saw horse
Branching Out Aberdeen - ecotherapy - weaving hurdles
Branching Out Aberdeen - ecotherapy - weaving hurdles
Branching Out Aberdeen - ecotherapy - weaving hurdles


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