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The Balsam Centre's ecotherapy programme: 'Adult Forest School'

At The Balsam Centre, we value the power of social connections in promoting good mental health. This belief has led us to launch an Ecotherapy project in partnership with Open Mental Health that combines nature-related and social activities to address the social anxieties of those recovering from mental ill health.

Set amidst the woods at Ham Hill, our ‘Adult Forest School’ harmoniously blends nature connection experiences and woodland activities. The focal point is our shelter, made with hazel from the woods, and the fire, where we cook lunch and the kettle simmers gently. Eating and relaxing together fosters social interaction and eases anxieties.

Guided by two practitioners, participants explore the Five Pathways to Nature Connection (Using the Senses; Appreciating Beauty; Understanding Emotion; Finding Meaning; and Showing Compassion) through activities such as fireside whittling and foraging for wild foods - beech leaf tea is a real favourite! During these activities participants feel relaxed enough to talk about their challenges as a form of mutual support without practitioners intervening. Social connections are built as we recognise the peaks and troughs of our lives reflected in the nature around us.

Developing this programme has presented several challenges – such as equipping the site, building relations with the Ham Hill rangers and learning new woodland skills – yet the positive feedback from over 30 participants reaffirms its success. Our approach showcases the potential of ‘Green Social Prescribing’ now pursued by the NHS and Natural England, and we are ready to contribute.

Interested in our Adult Forest School? Come and join us for tea and stew in the woods. Just speak to Kate or Nick at the Centre to find out more.


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