Positive Steps

Positive Steps

By Col Stocker>

“A morning exploring why and how to engage with the outdoors to promote positive mental and physical health.

An afternoon putting it into practice.”

On 19 May 23 Positive Steps Outdoors held a ‘Green Therapy’ day in Belfast, Northern Ireland to officially launch their project.

It saw close to 100 leaders and representatives from community groups, charities, the public sector (including health), local businesses and multi-national corporates attend to learn about the mental and physical health challenges faced by individuals, organisations and society and the role of natural therapy in supporting positive mental and physical health.

Positive Steps Outdoors are a social enterprise based in Northern Ireland, promoting positive mental and physical health by connecting people to majestic upland, moorland and forested environments, and each other. They help communities and employees manage life’s pressures, build sustainable networks, strengthen future resilience and deepen their affinity with the environment.

Their ‘green therapy’ project comprises tailored hikes in iconic locations, supporting positive mental health at an early stage or when overcoming ill health. By helping them achieve outdoor goals they felt to be out of reach, they look to build self-esteem and personal resilience whilst strengthening confidence to continue to visit outdoor destinations.

Looking to deliver pilot events up to the end of summer 2023, Positive Steps Outdoors founder Alan Ellwood ran through a bit about the project.

“Through the 'green therapy' project we are looking to help individuals access unique opportunities to feel recharged and increase awareness of the benefits of physical activity. All whilst improving social connections and support networks, helping to address any day to day challenges and gain greater environmental awareness. This project connects people within and across communities, including employee and community interactions to support building positive mental health.”

To make sure that their programmes can be delivered with maximum effectiveness it’s important that people feel that they can participate fully, with access to some appropriate equipment. Something that, either through economic circumstances or knowledge, can be a real barrier. So Alan applied to the Alpkit Foundation at the start of the year for support.

“The participants on our programmes include those living with PTSD, people overcoming addiction, individuals moving on from negative mental health and vulnerable people who, having fled danger in their home countries, are refugees. It is common that they have not been able to get out of urban areas in months or even years, or indeed perhaps even their accommodation in weeks. They may also have no prior experience of the outdoors environment, minimal disposal income and limited friendship networks. We have discovered that this means they are simply unaware of what equipment is required to visit outdoor destinations and even when informed are not equipped to buy or borrow equipment. This means that they are not able to participate fully in planned events when they arrive, or the events must be adjusted and so loose some of their impact.”

To overcome this issue they were seeking to build a store of basic loan equipment, sufficient to enable a group of 16 people to participate in basic hill walking activities. This ranged right from waterproofs and hats, to boots and daypacks. We were delighted to help get things underway with an initial grant, but saw an opportunity to also add further support through our Continuum programme. Passing on donated outdoor equipment to improve what’s available for them to offer and so help those who may not have suitable equipment.

Anyway, back to the Green Therapy day and the morning seminar

“The audience was welcomed by Positive Steps Outdoors’ patron two time world champion boxer Carl Frampton, who posed for a lot of photos and took part in a Q&A. Carl was asked about his BBC documentary "Men in Crisis" which sets out the current epidemic of mental ill health in Northern Ireland. If you have not seen it, you should watch it."

"Carl was followed by speakers from Aware NI, talking about mental health, Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke, covering physical health, British Mountain Medicine Society covering the efficacy of green therapy and The Wellbeing Pathway, with some real life case studies of how green therapy has helped people.”

It was here that Positive Steps Outdoors could highlight how they can support organisations to promote positive physical and mental fitness in cooperation with Mourne Heritage Trust and Belfast Hills Partnership.

Then after grabbing the packed lunches, delegates headed out for an enjoyable hike on Divis and Black Mountain; care of the National Trust and supported by Mountain Leaders from the Mountain Training Association.

It was great to hear back from Alan after the event, declaring it a rip roaring success. There was an amazing level of interest immediately following the seminar and then on the walk, exploring how to support organisations. Sounds like pretty positive steps to us!

“The event generated a healthy level of interest in exploring green therapy and how Positive Steps Outdoors can support organisations. This ranged from local health trusts seeking to help people get into walking and charities / community groups helping disadvantaged people or people with mental health needs to local businesses wanting to help their staff and corporates looking to do likewise while increasing their attractiveness to the labour market.”

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