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Nature the Healer: championing wellbeing

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In November 2022, Bristol Green Capital Partnership hosted ‘Nature the Healer’ at Boiling Wells, in partnership with West of England Healthier with Nature, NHS Bristol North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Integrated Care Board. Olivia Sweeney, former Black and Green Ambassador, shares her reflections from the event which aimed to help local citizens, groups and organisations to come together and explore the connections between nature, health and wellbeing.

© Guy@alive

It is an unseasonably sunny and warm afternoon in Bristol mid-November. As people arrive in the city oasis that is Boiling Wells (part of St Werburghs City Farm) there is delight that the skies are clear and blue, meaning we can enjoy our time together, outside in a full and easy way. Despite this, on the periphery there is an anxiety at what this means for us, for the future – it shouldn’t be this warm, this sunny, it’s November! The overarching feeling however, in this space, with these people, is joy, to be outside, to be together, talking, playing, resting, and listening. There are many who have never been to this space before, and some who have, but by their own admission not often enough. Everyone agrees, there should be more of this, we should value this, and give it time.

You can tell that this event is co-produced, with input from Bristol Green Capital Partnership, Black Seeds Network, health sector partners and a wide range of local groups and organisations. There is a sense of family, belonging and place as friends old and new come together. The day was an invitation to discover a new place and spend some time outside as this gets harder and harder to do in winter. An invitation to see, and respect nature, to take steps to restore the earth, so it and we can thrive. An invitation to meet with each other as well as the organisations and people in Bristol that are working in health, wellbeing, and nature to ensure all people and communities are supported to live full healthy lives, with each other and with the natural world.

There was a constant stream of people coming and going during the hours we spent at Boiling Wells, and that is in no small part because of the amazing offering from the community that had gathered together.

Filling our bellies is just as important as nourishing our minds and souls, and we were blessed with scrumptious vegan food from Coexist Community Kitchen who have been using food as a vehicle to work with people who experience social marginalisation in our society for the last 10 years. This non-profit cookery school is based in Easton, offers classes for all, including for those who are accessing support services. Coexist not only teaches people how to cook but it shares this food with those who need it, the kitchen runs food provision using food donations from local charities.

© Guy@alive

Our hosts, St Werburgh’s City Farm, were creating lino prints with leaves. As an organisation they aim to connect people with each other, nature, food and land. Having worked on and released their equity report in 2020, the farm has been on a journey of its own, realising what they have to give and how they can best do this.  

Caafi Health were also with us at Boiling Wells, aiming to break down barriers and allow better access to healthcare for all the diverse communities of Bristol. This organisation supports language, navigating GP and NHS access as well as undertaking outreach and awareness raising activities. They have a new focus on preventative care, supporting people to live healthier lives before illness occurs.

Also supporting Bristolians to live happy healthy lives was Beezee Bodies, who offer family courses, providing support and knowledge for a healthier lifestyle.

Health is about more than your body, it is also about your mind. To help us talk about mental health, Changes joined us for the afternoon. What I love about this organisation is the fact it is peer to peer. Though everyone seems to be talking about mental health a lot more, going to a therapist still feels a little intimidating, at least to me! So by offering peer to peer support, we take away a little of that fear, providing an open supportive safe space to talk is a powerful tool.

There are many ways to maintain a healthy mind. Soul Trail offered one way to do this, through mindful nature walks. I have been lucky enough to go on one of Soul Trail’s walks, and they are great. The group’s founders Leanne and Enrico are lovely people who are creating many different offerings to serve different communities of the South West.

Alive Activities offered some creativity with willow weaving. A theme of our day was ensuring that all communities have access to nature and the opportunity for a happy healthy life. Older people are often overlooked, and Alive activities are seeking to address that. Using their community gardens as a focal point for engagement, creativity and support, they are ensuring our elders continue to experience joy.

© Guy@alive

Bristol Rainforest is an organisation based in St Pauls I have admired from afar for many years. With the initial focus of ‘planting a rainforest one classroom at a time’, as I spoke to Amrish it was clear that this organisation is about so much more than the rainforest. With a renewed focus on connecting and improving our food systems, Bristol Rainforest is fundamentally about empowering children to think independently, question, and voice their likes and dislikes.

A new creative collective YesIDub Creations joined us at Boiling Wells. In response to the many crises we are currently facing, YesIDub believes that sharing creativity and culture will help build strength and resilience. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to catch a Shadow Puppet performance, but I will be sure to check it out in future.

Black Seeds Network asked those at Boiling Wells to tell our story. Part of their work is to shine a light on Black, Asian and Ethnically Diverse  leaders, as recognition is a core belief of the organisation.

Also present were Life2020, a movement that seeks to empower the masses by creating a network of support for local independent businesses, with a directory in which the community can find and support their local traders. As well as this the lovely people of Hip Hop Gardens joined us for the afternoon, they are soon to launch at Rose Green Bristol, so watch this space.

© Guy@alive

In case that wasn’t enough there was also music! Kabbo Hue and Rubba Dub offered us African drumming, they not only welcomed us into the space with the sound of drums, but also shared some of their skill with us in an afternoon drumming circle.

Spending the day just talking to brilliant people is always a privilege, but I was truly blown away by the warmth and openness of the people I spent my time with.

It was a beautiful day, and as I walked home, out of the oasis and back to the city, my steps felt a little lighter. Now, as I sit back in my office, writing and reflecting on my day at Boiling Wells with so many brilliant people, I can sense that feeling of contentment and calm has slipped away, and is being replaced by the stress of things I should and must do. I don’t like it, I want that feeling from the weekend back, so I am going to seek it out. And that is my request to you, give yourself a minute to take stock of how you are, if you could use a little grounding, restoration, or calm, maybe this is something that nature could offer you? There are plenty of people and organisations in Bristol who want to make this a joyous experience for you and can’t wait for you to connect with them.

Olivia is a chemical engineer by education. She is also a lifetime environmentalist and a former Black and Green Ambassador. She hosts a Tuesday morning breakfast radio show on Ujima Radio as well as working for a sustainable waste consultancy trying to make it easier for people to reduce their waste, recycle and build the circular economy. She was named one of the Top 100 most Influential Women in Engineering by FT in 2019 and one of Rife Magazine’s 30 under 30 in 2022. She is an advocate for equity and justice in all forms.

Connect with Olivia on instagram: @oliviameyonette

 

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