Scheme offers support and new skills

Branching Out participants are pictured with their certficates.
Branching Out participants are pictured with their certficates.

An innovative environmental programme for people with mental health issues concluded recently with and awards ceremony at Crombie Country Park.

Branching Out was established in 2007 by Forestry Commission Scotland and the 12-week programme features a series of three-hour sessions.

During the course, 11 participants from the Community Mental Health Teams in Angus have enjoyed themed walks, woodland management, habitat creation, nest box building, fire lighting, photography, woodland art, watercolour painting, fly fishing, tree identification, bird identification and butterfly and bee surveys.

They also completed The John Muir Award, which encourages awareness and responsibility for the natural environment in a spirit of fun, adventure and exploration. All the participants received their awards at a ceremony in the park.

The programme was run by staff from Angus Council Ranger Service, trained and accredited by Forestry Commission Scotland, with support from NHS Tayside occupational therapy staff.

Feedback from participants has been positive with almost all noting improvements in their self-confidence and ability to socialise more easily. Many also felt that the programme gave them a new-found interest in wildlife and conservation, while the rangers were praised for their sensitivity and enthusiasm.

The Forestry Commission has worked with environmental organisations in seven NHS board areas to train staff to deliver the course, offering people with mental health issues the opportunity to engage in a programme which provides mental, physical and social benefits, by helping with confidence building, increasing physical activity and greater independence.

Lisa King, from the Ranger Service, said: “We’re absolutely delighted to be running Branching Out and making it available to people living in Angus. Engagement with the activities has created opportunities for enjoyment, relaxation and social interaction as well as new experiences. Participants also have the opportunity to progress onto voluntary work as part of our regular volunteer group.”