Mental Wealth: The Wellbeing Value Of Volunteering Outdoors

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Mental illness is very common. One in four people will experience some form of mental heath problem in their lifetime, such as depression or anxiety, The stigma and discrimination associated with it is wide-reaching, and deeply affects the choices people make. It can have an impact on every aspect of their life; their family and social relationships, education and access to employment. Many feel socially isolated and excluded from their local communities. Research shows that supporting people to be active outdoors benefits their mental wellbeing.

Orchard Origins works with volunteers from all backgrounds, but it actively encourages and supports people who have mental health issues. Working with Herefordshire Mind, the charity for better mental health, Orchard Origins has been training volunteers in different aspects of orchard management. Each week the team put what they have learnt into practice in the orchards. By creating a safe, supportive environment, everyone can work at their own pace in their own way.

katie and martin

There’s no pressure on you when you’re there, that helps a lot………..the other volunteers help too, over the day you feel better.’ Herefordshire Mind Volunteer

Herefordshire Mind provides additional support to the volunteers and monitors the impact that working in the orchard has on their sense of wellbeing. Recovery is not assessed solely in terms of clinical recovery; social recovery is equally important: the development of a sense of personal control and opportunity.

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According to the feedback from volunteers, a day working in the orchard has a positive affect on their health and their sense of wellbeing. It is not just about physical activity, there is also the satisfaction gained from being involved in something worthwhile. Transforming a sad, neglected collection of trees back into a healthy, productive orchard can be very fulfilling and produce a real sense of achievement.

‘Its like 50 /50 you know?  What I’ve got out of it and what I’ve put in, you can give something and that’s what makes you feel good.’ Herefordshire Mind Volunteer

Volunteers are active participants in the social enterprise and contribute directly to its future sustainability. However, perhaps the most significant outcome of Orchard Origins is how it is helping to break down the barriers associated with mental illness.  Some Herefordshire Mind volunteers initially had reservations about working with other volunteers out of a fear of being judged and not being understood.  But, it has proved to be a hugely positive experience for everyone involved and has led to a greater sense of understanding and trust of others and an increased feeling of acceptance and self-worth.

 ‘‘ When you’re in the orchard, all doing the same job, you realise that you’re all basically the same.’ Herefordshire Mind Volunteer

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