Syrian refugees were among those to benefit from a ground-breaking five-year project to boost people’s health and wellbeing, by breaking down barriers to them enjoying time outdoors in National Parks. Research shows that spending time in green spaces can measurably improve people’s mental and physical health, raising the prospect that so-called ‘green prescribing’ could one day become part of mainstream medicine.

Khaled and Duaa recently moved near Exmoor National Park with their three children, having previously lived in Jordan and, before that, Syria. They visited Exmoor National Park for the first time through the Moor to Enjoy Project*, a five-year collaboration between Exmoor National Park Authority and Somerset and Devon Public Health, to help connect local groups with nature.

Carol Bryant from Taunton Welcomes Refugees, who have been supporting the family since their move, translated what the trip to Exmoor meant to them. She said: “What stood out for them was the sea – the children were seeing it for the first time having previously been in landlocked Jordan – and the animals. They saw cows, sheep and Exmoor ponies. Khaled was a farmer in Syria and loves the countryside. He said the scenery was lovely. They also visited the mill at Dunster and Khaled said how much he’d like to return with the whole family and visit the castle, so the trip triggered an interest in returning to the area.”

Lucy McQuillan, Exmoor National Park project coordinator for Moor to Enjoy, said: “It’s been an absolute pleasure to lead this project and see first-hand the amazing impact that time outdoors in the company of others can have for people going through some truly difficult times.

“It may seem like a small thing, but these kinds of connections can make a huge difference to people’s lives. Through Moor to Enjoy, I’m pleased to say we’ve helped over 1,000 people from 40 different groups with different challenges, spanning homelessness, drug and alcohol problems, visual impairment, mental health issues and dementia. It’s been truly humbling.”

*Funding for the Moor to Enjoy project ended in 2018, but the National Park are always happy to advise groups and there may still be opportunities to access support and funding through other programmes. Contact Tim Braund for information.

PHOTO: The Abdulnabi family at a Taunton Welcomes Refugees event, where the Moor to Enjoy project was recognised for its outstanding contribution to refugee resettlement.

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