In 2015, Transition Town Lewes is putting health, happiness and well-being at the top of its agenda – asking what can we do at a personal and community level to be healthier and feel better.
Supporting physical and mental health has always been on the Transition Town Lewes (TT) agenda, and at our seventh birthday celebrations in June this year it was something that many people said they’d like to see us focus on a lot more.
So, over the next year we want to explore how the particular strengths and knowledge in and around TTL can be used to complement other services related to health and well-being available in the town – and of course what’s provided by the NHS. Most of all, we want to open a debate as to what we can each do at a grass-roots, community level to be healthier, feel better and help others do the same.
Nature and wellbeing – the crucial link
Given TTL’s strong environmental connections, one core area we want to focus on is the benefits of nature to physical health and mental well-being. This is something that one of our associated groups, the Lewes & Ouse Valley Eco-systems Services Group (L&Ove), has spent a lot of time exploring and communicating passionately.
At the heart of L&Ove’s work is the concept of ‘Naturegain’ which asks us to recognise the many irreplaceable benefits that nature and our eco-systems provide – economically, socially, individually – and what we need to do to safeguard those benefits for future generations.
This idea of Naturegain and how it links to health is proving very topical. At the end of October, the UK’s Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB got together to launch a green paper calling for a specific Nature and Wellbeing Act to “restore nature and increase everyone’s access to it”.
These charities warn (just as the LOVe group has since 2010) that the health of our economy, our communities and our individual well-being are all inextricably linked to the health of the natural world. In fact, they claim that if every household in England were provided with good access to quality green space it could save an estimated £2.1 billion in health care costs every year.
Harnessing our natural capital
So how could we in Lewes use the amazing natural capital around us more effectively to support health and well-being? There are lots of ideas – and we want to explore what people in Lewes would most like to see.
It might be as simple as a series of walks to help people reconnect with nature. At its recent AGM, L&OVe addressed the possibility of running “naturegain” walks and events where people can draw not only on the physical health benefits of our natural environment but also connect with the cultural, creative and social rewards it offers too.
One really successful initiative that the Department of Health recognises – and many GPs now prescribe – are ‘Green Gym’ sessions, which enable patients to get involved in activities such as woodland conservation. Green gym sessions not only provides exercise, contact with nature and fresh air, but participants also talk about the enjoyment of a group activity and the feeling of making a positive and practical contribution.
Operating along similar lines is care farming. This involves a supervised, structured programme of farming-related activities that can be used to support a range of vulnerable people. Working with plants and animals has been shown to help those with learning challenges, the less able-bodied, and young offenders. Care Farming UK reckons there are several hundred sites that can be classified as care farms in the UK.
Living Well Dying Well
Finally, well-being isn’t just about how we feel throughout life – but at the end of life too. In this respect, an amazing initiative is Living Well, Dying Well- founded by Hermione Elliot who has been closely involved with TTL’s Heart & Soul Group.
Living Well, Dying Well encourages reflection on how to live life fully, while planning and preparing for its end. It offers courses, training, conversations and services help people think about death, talk about it and plan for it in a safe and supportive way. And given it’s something we are all going to experience eventually (!), TTL would love to see how we can promote Living Well, Dying Well’s great work to benefit more individuals, families and organisations throughout Lewes.
Coming soon: the TTL Health and Well-Being Open Space
There are lots of ideas to explore – and lots of expertise to call on. The core team of TTL’s Heart & Soul Group, for example, all have valuable working experience to bring to the conversation. Professor David Peters, for example, has a lifetime of involvement with Complementary Medicine, helping to develop initiatives such as the Self-Care Library which explores how to approach common illnesses, from headache and depression, to back pain and fatigue. See the Selfcare Library…
Now, we want to draw on the skills and thoughts of many more TTL supporters and the wider town community. In particular we want to ask: what gaps in the services for health and well-being can we work to fill ourselves?
To start to answer this question, Transition Town Lewes will be holding an ‘open space’ event in the new year where everyone is warmly welcomed to come and share their ideas for health and well-being in our town.
If you’d like to be involved in this event or know someone we should be talking to, please get in touch – email: firstname.lastname@example.org