Category Archives: Wellbeing

Somerset Wildlife Trust: Somerset Nature Connections project

Somerset Nature Connections is a new partnership project being run by Somerset Wildlife Trust, the Mendip Hills and the Quantock Hills and Blackdown Hills AONBs (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty).

Funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, it will support local communities and individuals most  vulnerable to mental health issues, providing better access to nature spaces to encourage and increase self-management for individuals, and develop a network of skilled volunteers who can support communities for the longer term.

The project will also work be working closely with mental health charities Mind and Chard WATCH. Significant funding has also been received from Hinkley Point C Community Impact Mitigation (CIM) Fund and Somerset County Council. Jim Hardcastle, Mendip Hills AONB Manager, said, “Somerset is blessed in having three AONBs that can be used as a ‘natural health service’ for the community. The combination of the AONB teams and Somerset Wildlife Trust working together for the benefit of the community in Somerset is really powerful and will have a long-lasting legacy.”

Jolyon Chesworth, Head of Engagement at Somerset Wildlife Trust, says: “There are individuals and communities in Somerset who stand to benefit hugely from time spent in natural spaces, but access is often limited. It’s vital that we support people and communities in need in these particularly challenging times, and that we do something positive and long term to empower particularly vulnerable people or groups to connect with the project so they don’t feel isolated and alone, and can meet people in a safe, supported, nature-based environment to self-manage their mental health.”

The project will run a targeted programme delivered in six-week blocks at various locations across the county for people experiencing poor mental health. The programme will include practical outdoor activities, including conservation tasks, wildlife walks and natural crafts, adapted to the meet the specific needs of each group in order to help them connect with nature. Volunteers will be recruited and trained to provide peer support to those who may need extra help to attend activities and to access mainstream nature volunteer groups. Others will volunteer to provide health and wellbeing support at local community groups. The project will work with local community groups and support staff working with people with a higher risk of experiencing mental health problems. This may include people with learning disabilities, long term health conditions, carers and isolated older people. As part of this, the project will increase group leaders’ knowledge and skills to deliver outdoor wellbeing-enhancing activities.

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Photo by Matt Sweeting


A care farm in North Devon is among the first to become part of Countrymen UK.

Futures Farm in Woolacombe is looking for members to join a brand-new venture designed to allow men with health issues to access support services in an environment they understand and can relate to.

The farm has become part of Countrymen UK, a registered charity with an exciting new nationwide initiative providing a unique solution designed to support the increasing isolation of men who find themselves unable to access outdoor work and leisure environments because of their deteriorating physical or mental health or changing social conditions.

The countrywide launch of Countrymen Clubs aims to help men become more resilient to the life changes they experience as a result of rural isolation and ageing. The Clubs are particularly keen to recruit older men who have long-term health conditions including Dementia, Parkinson’s and other limiting long-term illnesses, but are open to men of all ages who experience rural isolation and deteriorating physical or mental health. Typically the men will have an affinity with the outdoors and may have worked in farming, horticulture or in other outdoor environments.

The idea behind Countrymen UK is for all men, regardless of their mobility or cognitive levels, to have the opportunity to participate in healthy, active and social activities in a safe and supported countryside or farm environment to the benefit of their physical and mental wellbeing.

Thanks to funding from the National Lottery, more than a dozen Care Farms and Gardens across the UK have signed up to become Countrymen UK Social Franchises and are aiming to recruit members, together with volunteers, to their newly formed Countrymen UK Clubs.

The Countrymen UK Clubs were developed as a result of an initiative by Future Roots – an organisation which runs programmes in Dorset for both young people and adults. It is part of the ‘care farming’ movement, which aims to harness the therapeutic potential of farming practices.

Future Roots and Countrymen UK founder Julie Plumley explains, “The unique combination of activities taking place outdoors reflects our belief, underpinned by recent research*, that getting back to farm and countryside environments and green spaces, overcomes isolation and has a positive impact on physical health and mental wellbeing.”

The Clubs also help the wives and carers of the members, providing an opportunity for respite as well as the chance to socialise and gain mutual support from one another.

One Countryman, Dan Hodgeson, commented, “I was depressed and isolated. I missed the life I once had in the countryside and had little contact with people outside my family. That’s all changed now. I love being outside again. It brings back memories. It’s become a new adventure for me – a healthy adventure. And I’m surrounded by people who share my interests.”

Countrymen UK Clubs run several sessions every month throughout the year. Some members attend only one session, while others attend multiple sessions – it’s entirely up to them and a small charge is made for each session.

For more information about Countrymen UK go to or email: or tel: 01963 210789.


West Somerset Council has officially joined Watchet area Dementia Action Alliance (WDAA) as part of its commitment to being a “dementia-friendly” organisation.

Cllr Keith Turner, the Lead Member for Housing, Health and Wellbeing, is the council’s representative on the group.

West Somerset Council fully supports WDAA and the organisation’s work locally in transforming the health for people living with dementia through community action.

Cllr Turner said: “I am proud the council is now a member of this local organisation – one that is making a real difference to people’s lives. Support networks are vital for those with dementia, their families and carers and helps people maintain that all-important independence for longer.

“I was pleased to attend WDAA’s annual general meeting this week and see for myself the tremendous amount of work that volunteers are doing.”

Margaret Tatham (WDAA lead) said: “We are delighted that West Somerset Council has joined the Alliance, which now has 45 members across Watchet, Williton and nearby villages, all helping to make our area more Dementia Friendly.”

The council became a dementia-friendly organisation four years ago with staff undergoing awareness training with some going on to become ‘dementia champions’.

Staff are planning to raise funds for Reminiscence Learning, the dementia charity, during National Dementia Awareness Week (May 21-27).

PHOTO:  (L-R): Cllr Dave Westcott, Lead Member for Community and Customer, Cllr Keith Turner and WADAA chair Margaret Tatham.


Fishing is not on the top of the list of things to do when you have been through the trauma of breast cancer, and trying to get your life back together again. But as the members of an organisation called Fishing For Life have discovered it is exactly what this group has helped them to do.

South West Fishing For Life

As Jenny, one of the members at Wimbleball on Exmoor, said, ‘’If you had asked me in the summer of 2007 if I would pick up a fishing rod and go fly fishing at the beginning of the next season, the answer would have been categorically NO, but in January 2008 I was diagnosed with breast cancer and I thought my life had come to an end. Whilst visiting the Breast Care Clinic at Musgrove Park Hospital, Taunton, Somerset, I came across the leaflet advertising Taster Days for fly fishing at Wimbleball Lake for SWFFL, and, with encouragement from my husband, decided to give it a go.

“I know that all the ladies enjoy getting together once a month, when we can forget about our daily routine. It is our time to be in the fresh air, our time to think about ourselves, have a laugh and to know that we can talk about our experiences with others if we want to, and you never know, even come home with a trout or two for supper.’’ Jenny has now become a Level 2 coach so she can give something back as she said as it has helped her move on with her life.

The club’s qualified coaches aim to teach people to fly fish and, in doing so, enhance their well-being as the fishing techniques are beneficial to building up tissues and muscles after surgery. Men make up about 3% of breast cancer victims and are just as welcome to join the groups. The local hospital Musgrove Park breast cancer unit’s nurses and physiotherapist’s have been to the organisation’s days and are very supportive.

There are many physical and psychological benefits of exercise following any illness or operation, and fly fishing has specific benefits for people following breast cancer said a physiotherapist.

  • Movement can improve circulation and any swelling or lymphoedema that may be present.
  • Specific movements involved with casting can improve shoulder strength and stability in an overall ‘safe’ shoulder position.
  • Confidence and body image can be improved by the support network and motivation of a new hobby/sport.
  • Stretches and movements can improve the mobility of any scar tissue that may be present.
  • General mood and wellbeing can be greatly helped by many factors such as the excellent support network that is provided by SWFFL, as well as a reason to be outdoors and socialising.
  • Exercise releases ‘feel good hormones’ called endorphins which in turn improve mood and energy levels.
  • SWFFL provides a network of friends and support to help breast cancer patients with ‘moving on’ and coping with difficult times, as well as the ability to share information and experiences with people who can empathise. Thanks to the generosity of   various waters and all the volunteers these days are free for the members to attend and also provide them with a social and supportive network.

Fishing For Life is not all about fishing but ‘me’ time and a soul-finding time in beautiful locations, back with nature by still waters. If fishing is not really your idea of fun there is always a cup of coffee and plenty of chat and time for a walk. SWFFL always encourage friends and family to support, do their own thing while the members are having fishing instruction and then joining in the refreshments afterwards.

SWFFL was founded in 2008 on Wimbleball Exmoor and has now grown to eight groups: Wimbleball, Somerset, Kennick in Devon, Siblyback in Cornwall, Blagdon in Bristol and the Pennines, Bolton, Dorset, Hawkridge, Spaxton, Somerset and Gloucester/Worcester. As it has grown and moved from the South West the other groups are simply called Fishing For Life.

In time it is hoped that there will be  groups all over England so anyone who has suffered or is living with breast cancer can enjoy what this unique organisation has to offer: support, friendship, ‘me’ time, caring volunteers who listen and lots of fun and laughter!

Please look at the website for more information.

If you would like to go along to any of the groups or talk to someone please ring Gillian (secretary) 01398 371244 or email

Moorland Partnership with the NHS

In a ground-breaking partnership Exmoor National Park Authority is working with the Health and Wellbeing Boards of Devon and Somerset, the first of its kind in England, to demonstrate how access to green space can reduce the need for drug-based interventions or development of long-term conditions.

Andrea Davis, Chairman of Exmoor National Park Authority, and Member Christine Lawrence, have both been instrumental in enabling the project to happen.  “Addressing health and wellbeing at an early stage has huge benefits both for the individual and, in the longer term, reduces the burden on already squeezed health and social care services” said Andrea.  

“National Parks are special places for their landscapes and opportunities for recreation. At the same time as enjoying ourselves, we are also benefiting from our ‘natural’ health service, reducing the need for visits to the GP or admissions to hospital.”

Studies have proved that access to ‘green space’ improves our health and wellbeing.  Whether it’s a simple as a picnic or going for a short walk up to a full on 15 mile ramble or taking part in a 6 hour cycling sportive it’s all to the good.  Taking part in practical projects can also help; tree planting, drystone walling, scrub bashing, wildlife surveys.  All of these activities bring in to contact with the natural environment and other people.

The Moor to Enjoy Project is joint funded for three years and, following a recruitment process, Keeley Rolfe has been appointed Project Coordinator.

The project will enable people who experience mental, emotional and physical health challenges to get involved on Exmoor as part of a programme to improve their health and wellbeing.  It is primarily aimed at reaching communities that would not normally consider visiting Exmoor.  Ultimately, the project will give skills, knowledge and confidence to health and social care professionals and groups to enjoy Exmoor independently without the support of the project officer.