Woodlands Community are a community-led charity working to achieve lasting benefits for the people who live, work or study in the Woodlands area of Glasgow. They have been active for ten years.

In 2010, a vacant site in West Prince’s Street was transformed into Woodlands Community Garden. Although the Garden remained open during the pandemic, the regular communal volunteer sessions were suspended. Knowing how isolated some of the regular volunteers were feeling, and seeing the benefits the garden had brought to its visitors and raised bedders in reducing their stress, this led the group to develop a new initiative, their Nature Recovery Project.

There have been various strands to this project, focusing on supporting the mental health of the community.

Nurture through Nature – free one-to-one support led by a local mental health specialist. A relaxed space to talk, share and rest in nature.

Creative Pollination Writing Course –mostly online activities mixed with one 15-minute weekly meeting in nature with the tutor and a socially distanced walk with another participant. The online exercises are still available on their website together with the community work “I want to bee a garden”.

Wildlife Friendly Front Gardens – garden staff worked with a selection of residents to support them to create accessible nature spaces at their front doors.

Workspace Terrace – outdoor meeting space – with the workspace and community meeting room closed, the terrace is available as a free space to book and meet socially in a Covid-19 secure way.

Wellbeing Sessions in the Garden – when restrictions allowed groups to gather for workshops, the garden was used for free, socially distanced meditation and breathing workshops which took place whatever the weather.

Top Tips

Use what you already have! With a hard-working and dedicated team, a few of them long-standing, they gently built on the foundations that Woodlands Community has already laid down and quickly got to work. If you know someone who practices mindfulness, ask them to come along and share their knowledge. Using contacts, volunteers with specific skills and social media, things quickly got off the ground.

Get people outside (safely) even if it’s just for a one-to-one chat. Get people learning about compost; going for a walk. Encourage sharing of emotions, how people are feeling and respond with an activity that you think might help.

Be open and honest on social media – acknowledge the emotions of what has been going on. They found that the community really responded to this.

If you can, make services free (or ask for donations only if they are able)

Making it happen

Ever changing Government guidelines & restrictions
Woodlands Community went through each Government review and set of changes with a fine-tooth comb to make sure that they were sticking to the guidelines and each activity was safe. They added sanitising stations, restricted participant numbers, used strict track and trace protocols, provided attendees with Covid-19 guidelines before attending and added additional signage on site.

New equipment needed for staff & Woodlands site
They needed a lot of new equipment! Large umbrellas, gazebos, outdoor heaters, weatherproof tables and chairs. Staff, especially their mental health specialist, needed mobile phones to make it easy for people to get in contact and to arrange appointments.

Things to consider

Mental health challenges for staff  
Although they have been running for 10 years and have experience of vulnerable people coming along to the Garden and Workspace building, as a staff team Woodlands Community had not experienced anything like the extreme effects that the pandemic was having on people’s mental health. They acknowledged this and now have regular weekly staff check-ins on Zoom about how the team is doing but also to flag up anyone who is coming to activities that may need extra support.

They have renewed first aid training and are looking into mental health first aid training and other wellbeing training opportunities.

During the summer months the group were very lucky. As the autumn and winter drew in, they found that it did not stop people from wanting to participate. If people are encouraged to dress for the weather and provide rain shelter when possible, they found it did not hugely affect participant numbers. In fact, the weekly meditation in the garden was busier on weeks where it was pouring with rain! It seems that meditation and rain together are cathartic.

There are specific pockets of funding for Covid-19-related response. They made applications specific for improving wellbeing and acquiring equipment.

Who can help?

Connect with local Housing Associations, and other local mental health charities. See what you can do together, supporting each other and your service users. Working together for the community is wonderful.

“One of the major changes for us has been the increase in activities to support mental health and wellbeing and reduce social isolation. People want to connect, learn new skills, share their experiences and be outdoors in nature helping to reduce stress and anxiety. Going forward we are going to continue focusing on these areas.”
Kathryn Cory,  Workspace and Wellbeing Coordinator.