We've won funding! A new Nature and Health Hub for Cornwall.
A successful application to NERC - the Natural Environment Research Council - means that for six months starting in November 2016 a broad partnership of stakeholders are going to look at taking the whole agenda forwards together when it comes to nature-based interventions for health. There is increasing evidence that regularly being active in natural outdoor spaces is good for one's general health and wellbeing. Doctors and other health professionals are increasingly likely to suggest a social, non-clinical activity for those patients who may be suffering from depression, anxiety, isolation or general poor health, as much as they might prescribe a traditional treatment. At the same time, from the environmental science side of things rather than the health side, researchers are increasingly interested in demonstrating how natural places provide all sorts of benefits to people that can otherwise be missed, such as making a contribution to health. At the University of Exeter, academics have been approaching the topic from both of these directions, and have been working with doctors, land owners and patients to set up projects that encourage people to get out into nature more. The 'Dose of Nature' programme has been running for a few years. Sometimes the groups that have been supported concentrate on walking in nature. Sometimes they involve more hands on activities. A lot of this work has been based in Cornwall. In the last few years new partnerships have been created in the county around the economy, the environment, and health and wellbeing. To a greater or lesser degree, Cornwall Council is involved in each of these partnerships. The Council is also faced with new challenges and opportunities, for example with the need to produce a plan for the closer alignment of health and social care budgets and workloads, and the contents of the 'Devolution Deal' that it has signed with the Government. This proposal is about making the most of that opportunity. The university researchers and the Council have agreed to spend six months looking in detail at a new way of working. This would bring together the sorts of activities, based outdoors, to which a doctor might refer a patient, alongside all the public health promotion work that already goes on. Other things can be added into that mix; the walking groups that happen in Cornwall's Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and with the National Trust, for example. Also the initiatives to reduce inactivity that the Cornwall Sports Partnership are taking forwards. All of this could be brought together under one structure, one coordinated service. The proposal is therefore to buy six months of a researcher's time to look at this in detail. That researcher would have to do a number of things: look at what the science says and summarise the evidence; ensure that all the potential partners get on board and have their objectives met; talk to people on the ground in the six target zones in Cornwall that have been identified as the most in need; and write a business plan that is deliverable and fundable. What's new about this is the idea of applying a 'stepped change' approach, so that general advice and tips on how to get out into nature are tied to actual providers, walking groups, outdoor therapists and the like. A coordinated effort, made through a single 'Nature and Health Hub', should have a greater impact on the health and wellbeing of Cornish residents, as well as provide an effective way for scientific findings to be used. We want to see how such a Hub can tie in with initiatives in the workplace too, because employment and employability are key factors in wellbeing. Bringing together all these different organisations and partnerships is quite possible - many have already signed up in principle to trying - but it is a task that requires a detailed plan. That plan needs to consider in detail what to do, where, with how many people, as well as how to apply the science and monitor progress.