Tranquil, enchanting, inspiring and a place to replenish the soul. The South Downs has always had these special qualities, but the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to amplify the value of having a National Park on our doorstep here in the Brighton and Lewes area.
As we’re in the midst of another national lockdown, it’s more important than ever to get your daily dose of natural sunlight, breathe in fresh air and enjoy the serenity of the South Downs. A simple 30-minute or hour-long walk can do wonders for your mental health, getting those feel-good hormones flowing and restoring a bit of calm to your day.
However, we know many people may not be able to access the National Park and for them we’re continuing to step up our virtual offering – with uplifting images on social media, good news stories in our National Park newsletter and a number of initiatives that people can do safely at their home or in a green space near where they live.
Here’s a few ideas:
Family John Muir Award – A great way to connect with nature over the cold winter months. Starting at the end of November, this is an activities programme, with a potential award at the end, and is designed for families to learn more about the natural world. From what to look out for on your wild winter walks, to things you can do to help bugs, birds and beasts throughout the colder months, there will be plenty to do! There will also be nature based celebration craft ideas along with sustainable Christmas tips.
Astrophotography Competition – What could be more mindful and centring than gazing at a starry night sky? The National Park has launched its first photo competition for all budding astrophotographers and there’s some great prizes on offer.
Christmas Advent Calendar – if you fancy winning a £150 hamper and learning more about the National Park, this is for you! Every day from 1 December until Christmas, there’ll be a fun question about the South Downs, including weird and wonderful facts, nature, history and general knowledge trivia.
For those who want to do something a bit more energetic, it’s worth checking out our website to find a walking route close to where you live. A fabulous resource, crammed with information! You can also check out our ViewRanger App on your mobile phone.
Last year I became the National Park’s first health and wellbeing officer and it’s certainly been a rewarding job so far. One of my priorities is to develop more “green social prescribing” – working with health and social care providers to encourage people to make the most of the National Park. Did you know mental illness accounts for 23 per cent of all ill-health in England and affects more than one in four of the population at any time? It’s a stark statistic that is being taken really seriously by National Parks and is driving us to develop new health and wellbeing strategies that complement our wonderful NHS.
Earlier this year I helped with a community arts project at Truleigh Hill, not far from Brighton, that really brought home why I do what I do. The South Downs National Park Authority teamed up with Creative Waves, a community arts organisation based in Worthing and Adur, to take small groups of people up to the hill to help boost their mental health and well-being. After enjoying short walks at the beauty spot to gain inspiration, the budding artists headed back to a studio in Worthing to let their imaginations run wild, creating amazing objects using natural materials.
The project was called “Truleigh Inspired” – and to say I was truly inspired is an understatement.
I’d like to share one of the testimonials from a lovely lady called Daniela, who said: “It was one of the most enjoyable projects I have taken part in – a chance to discover, explore and reflect on a part of the South Downs I would not normally have access to, and did not know before, and the opportunity to regularly meet and work with a group of interesting, inspiring and lovely people.
“The project has had a wholly positive impact personally – from the fresh-air benefits of spending more time outdoors, to talking and laughing with others, to experimenting freely with materials and ‘playing’ with ideas. It has made me more aware of the landscape of my local environment and given me the impetus to spend more time in the South Downs. I believe the project also made us really feel part of the environment of the Downs and has given us a sense of being custodians of the landscape.”
This is what makes my job so worthwhile and why I think we’ve probably only scratched the surface of just how important this stunning, biodiverse landscape will be for health and wellbeing in the years ahead. It’s certainly been a difficult year for everyone, but the South Downs continues to be a very special place for escape, adventure, enjoyment, inspiration and reflection.
Health and Well Being Officer