“I began to see my own potential. I realised I could make changes in my life. Venture Trust takes you out of your normal situation and takes you to a place where anything is possible. You develop the confidence and tools to let you know what you are capable of doing. It brought me back to life.”
Those are the words from Linda, one of the people Venture Trust has supported to overcome mental and emotional wellbeing issues during the past year.
And the “place where anything is possible” is the Scottish outdoors.
The positive health and wellbeing benefits of nature are well documented, and the past year has brought this further into focus. The Mental Health Foundation made ‘Nature’ the theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 in Scotland and the foundation has called for a National Green Spaces Strategy to be introduced to guarantee safe and accessible green spaces for all to transform Scotland’s relationship with the outdoors and improve health outcomes.
Across Scotland, access to educational and development opportunities in the outdoors have been drastically reduced because of the impacts of Covid-19.
Even before lockdown, getting into the outdoors and experiencing the benefits of nature was difficult for a large section of Scottish society. Hard to believe when Scotland is almost like one all-encompassing national park.
For too many people, the chaos and challenges in their lives means spending time outdoors is not something they see as a priority. When navigating barriers including trauma, mental health issues, addiction, long-term unemployment, poverty, and involvement with the criminal justice system, leaving the house for walk in a local park can seem like a step too far.
“After a drink-driving conviction my home became my prison. I wouldn’t leave my house; I sank into a deep depression and couldn’t see a way out.”
Or for others, a lack of safe parks, walkways, and bicycle trails in the area they live is an issue. And without private transport or the finances to take long-distance public transport, the mountains, glens, and lochs of Scotland can seem like a million miles away.
To truly create a fairer, healthier, and safer Scotland we understand there must be equality across health, education, employment and justice but we also need to ensure everyone in society can benefit from time and support to develop in natural environments.
YouthLink, a national agency for youth work in Scotland, is calling for all young people to be guaranteed the right to progressive outdoor learning including the immersive, residential experiences. At Venture Trust we wholeheartedly back YouthLink’s call to action. Additionally, we want to ensure a similar commitment from across society to guarantee people of all ages can access the outdoors and the transformative power of nature.
We live in a country with spectacular natural wild places and many of our cities sit at the top of the tree in the UK for urban greenspaces. These environments can be used to challenge people to focus on their actions and consequences – encouraging the discovery of new skills and talents.
These improvements provide a foundation to increase stability, resilience and confidence. By unlocking these skills people can break cycles of disadvantage and reach their full potential.
Tejesh Mistry, Venture Trust Director of External Affairs
This article was first published in The Scotsman on August, 2021. Read it here.