As part of the launch of York’s Culture Strategy ‘York’s Creative Future’, through the Better Care Fund, Make It York and City of York Council awarded funding of more than £10,000 to seven social and cultural initiatives across the city – with the aim of easing loneliness, isolation and mental ill-health during the winter months.
The grants were set up in recognition of the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on people’s wellbeing – through shielding, self-isolation and social distancing.
One project the grant scheme supported was ‘Journey Through Winter’s Heart’, led by local charity St Nicks. The project set out to boost spirits during the winter season and increase social connection through promoting the power of nature and creativity.
Offering a series of fun craft workshops and creative nature explorations sessions, participants were able to learn about nature and get involved in a range of activities – from candle making and willow crafting, to poetry and games.
One hundred York residents were involved in these sessions which were aimed at increasing social connection – particularly within marginalised or disadvantaged groups and those negatively impacted by the pandemic. The charity worked with groups such as the York Mosque, LGBT Forum, Wilberforce Trust, York Carers and Changing Lives to ensure the sessions were as inclusive as possible and were tailored to meet the different groups’ needs.
Despite lockdown restrictions, the St Nicks team quickly adapted to create a blended offer – incorporating both online Zoom calls with opportunities for people to get out and find objects in nature. Craft materials were hand-delivered to participants helping to encourage more people to get involved and the team worked hard to remove any barriers to inclusion, even providing technical support for those who had never used Zoom before.
Esther Smith Charity Support Manager at St Nicks said “We’ve been aware for a long time of the powerful impact that connecting with nature can have on people’s mental wellbeing and we wanted these sessions to be a really inclusive way to give residents across the city opportunities to get creative and enjoy nature. We were really keen to promote the message that connecting to nature doesn’t necessarily mean going out for a long hike – it incorporates all sorts of things, such as crafting and getting out to forage for materials, writing poetry, nature journaling or simply being outside feeding the birds.
“Our aim with this project was to really help local people feel as connected as possible this winter – both with nature and with each other, and to help beat the winter blues. We wanted to offer fun, creative activities that would also give opportunities for socialising and online discussion to help people forge lasting links with each other and their local community.
Feedback from participants has been hugely positive and we are really proud that 100% of those who responded to our survey said the sessions reduced their isolation and improved their physical and mental wellbeing. We found that the conversation really flowed in the sessions and it was a great way of connecting people and giving them opportunities to learn more about nature and the work we do here at St Nicks.
What has also been lovely about this project are the continued links we have with the groups that we partnered with – being able to develop these relationships is really important to us and allows us to tailor our ongoing activities using their feedback.
Thank you to the Better Care Fund for helping us to put on these sessions which really allowed people to come together virtually to enjoy nature and be creative, creating some much-needed social connection, especially over this winter period.”
St Nicks have a number of ongoing projects and opportunities for residents to be involved with – these include:
- Bushcraft: a hands-on, practical experience for those aged 14+ to develop skills and knowledge that can be applied to survive and thrive in a natural environment.
- Green Influencers – a scheme to support young people aged 10-14 years to make a difference to the local community and environment through youth social action projects benefitting schools and communities in the area.
- Access to Inclusion- St Nicks is working alongside local partners and stakeholders in order to provide mentoring, training and engaging activities for participants, helping people to develop their own skills and moving them closer to employment market.