2022 Review & Beyond

Above Image – ‘New Directions’ — from ‘Natter in Nature’ walk at Parkhall (early 2022)

2022 Review & Beyond |  New Directions

Below is our summary of what we’ve been up to, and providing an explanation to a more digital direction ahead for our Human-Nature project.  (These words below will form the basis of our annual CIC34 report for the CIC Regulator).

Above Image – Woodland Bluebell Walk (May 2022)


Company’s Activities & Impact |

Facing the Future, Face-to-Face

Our Human-Nature project has now been running for 7 years.  A core number of participants who have been with us from the start are still finding enjoyment and wellbeing benefits from coming along to our ‘natter-in-nature’ walks, week in and week out.  A number of early participants remain as Advocates, effectively the steering group, who continue to advise and help shape the direction of the project.

Overall though, the number of people walking regularly with us weekly has dropped, with some now struggling to attend weekly due to new work commitments, whilst others have developed health conditions which somewhat limit their ability to walk long distances (historically up to 6 miles).  We’ve had to adapt our walks to meet all levels of current ability/mobility, walking shorter distances in less demanding terrain.  We’re now placing more emphasis on the social chat at the end of a walk, often finishing the walk in a nearby cafe or pub or with some garden games, with less time spent walking.  Maintaining this social aspect is important, to allow social bonds and friendships made over the years to continue, and prevent the risk of participants becoming socially isolated as they become older and potentially less mobile, allowing them to remain an important part of this well established ‘Friends with Human-Nature’ group, who also maintain regular connections as a private group on Facebook. 

Due to the lower numbers attending the weekly walking group, and mindful of our environmental impact travelling to green space venues, we’ve decided to alter the schedule of walks for 2023, meeting monthly at 12 predetermined but varied locations, which make the most of the seasons but which ending the walk close to a cafe or pub.  This allows those with less mobility walk less distance, whilst still benefiting from the social aspects meeting over a tea/coffee or the option to enjoy a light lunch at the end of the walk.  We’ll continue to ‘walk from home’ locally in the interim weeks, avoiding car usage, potentially reducing our project’s travel carbon footprint by around 75% and fulfilling our own ‘Care for the Planet’ obligations.


Digital Direction Developments

Our solid progress with digital wellbeing developments continues.  Our on-line and digital tools and techniques emerged out of necessity during the pandemic, but continue to see us reach more people and wider — now UK-wide in fact.  This means that our wellbeing and positive mental health impact reaches more people than it ever could just offering face-to-face activities to local people in the North Staffordshire & East Cheshire areas.  

During 2022 we co-created 2 new digital wellbeing e-books ‘Fascinating Finds’ & ‘Words Escape Me’ showcasing the photography and creative writing talents of our wider circle of friends and followers, as well as local contributors.  This co-created approach has now successfully delivered 5 digital wellbeing e-books which we publish on our website as on-line free-to-read flip books or slideshow videos, promoting a way to connect to nature virtually and mindfully.  This also offers ‘virtual nature escapes’ for people with limited mobility, who struggle to get physically out into nature for medical reasons, or due to time/work pressures, or because they are still shielding due to vulnerabilities.  Being photo e-books, they’re also quick to read, and useful for a short mindful ‘escape’ break to nature for those feeling stressed at work – and might offer a relaxing respite over a short lunch or rest break during a busy day.

We’ve now had over 50 co-creators contributing their words and pictures, and the 5 e-books are now building into a comprehensive digital wellbeing library.  We believe co-creating and sharing wellbeing content in this way may well be unique to our Human-Nature project.  We have hopes to co-create and add further new e-book titles during 2023 (subject to new funding), and are about to share the content from our existing e-books in new ways from February 2023 as ‘walking galleries’ (art installations in the landscape which promote exercise) and ‘therapeutic nature slideshows’ in healthcare settings (linking to promoting self-care and social prescribing).  These may help us to reach a new audience locally.  Initial pilots will target the more deprived areas within diverse communities, but within easy reach of high quality city parks and canal-sides.  These communities have been chosen because they are often under-represented in green space projects (like ours), but tend to have less favourable wellbeing and mental health outcomes.  It makes sense to encourage them to use local green space assets on their own doorstep, helping them stay fit, well and resilient and out of the often over-burden GP/NHS system. This pilot will be evaluated and use on-line survey feedback from the public to consider extending it to other areas within Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme (subject to new funding).    


Follow-on Funding Frustrations

Securing new and follow-on funding has remained a problem during 2022 and seems set to continue throughout 2023 and beyond.  Statistics indicate that there was a rise in CIC’s and community projects closing during 2022, and it certainly feels harder to secure funding, or develop new trading income streams.  

Our original vision of becoming a mobile canals-based project operating from a narrowboat have now been dashed and shelved, following a number of failed attempts to secure follow-on funding from The National Lottery Community Fund, despite having £80k matched funding promised from other sources, and despite earlier successes from TNLCF for development funding (that we were grateful for).  We sense that funders are having to bolster the work of existing more well-established charities delivering essential services, as services traditionally delivered by local authorities come under increasing pressure and continue to be cut back.

We anticipate that due to the ‘cost of living’ and ‘cost of energy’ crises, plus rising inflation and mortgage costs, funders will prioritise around larger projects providing essential services, like food, warmth and shelter.  These same social pressures will lead to less disposable income, and even less ability and willingness for the public to pay for our type of wellbeing services.  

We’ve spent 7 years trying to develop income streams and trade successfully as a CIC, to break away from funding dependence. Repeatedly applying for funding saps our time and energy (taking this away from beneficiaries). It’s demoralising to keep having our ideas, hopes and vision for the future dashed, especially when we feel that we are one of the leading organisations in our field.  Under the current economic climate, we’re forced to take the reluctant decision to move away from face-to-face delivery of wellbeing activities, and abandon our vision to create a formal base to work from.  Moving forwards it will be our intention to focus squarely on our digital wellbeing outputs (as least cost option), growing our project through our on-line creative community, providing wellbeing inspiration via the website and our ‘Nature’s Ways to Wellbeing’ model.  

Due to a shortfall in funding, this will inevitably mean that our Founder & Director leading the project and delivery of wellbeing activities and digital content, will have to find alternative paid employment, with the hopes of continuing the project digitally on a part-time basis only.

ove Image – Garden Games after a walk at Silverdale Country Park (Sept 2022 – Photo Credit @kendie)


Consultation with Stakeholders |

Throughout 2022 our regular walking group (including a number of our Advocates as Steering Group) continued to provide feedback and advice on suitable ways forward for our project.  As we’re having to scale back our face-to-face delivery, now focusing more on digital wellbeing outputs, we’ve offered them the opportunity to take a more prominent and more active role in leading the Human-Nature project moving forwards, as well as themselves becoming community health champion volunteers.  

We remain focused on our local North Staffordshire and East Cheshire community as key stakeholders, but continue to connect to new beneficiaries UK-wide.  We’re also hoping to better connect via local GP practices and through social prescribing, to bring our work to the attention of more people locally.

We plan on further exploring digital ways to gather stakeholders feedback, following the successful work done on electronic surveys gathering testimonial statements as to the value of our digital wellbeing e-book resources, both from contributors, and those who enjoy reading them as on-line therapeutic resource.  This approach will be further used in 2023 to evaluate feedback on our ‘walking galleries’ and link-up with local GP practices for social prescribing.

Above Image – Sunflower on a visit to Sugnall Hall Walled Garden  (Aug 2022 – Photo Credit @kendie)


In January 2023, we attended the finale celebration of the ‘Create Place Cultural Leadership’ programme, having being on one of the early cohorts. This was an excellent opportunity to meet face-to-face (finally) with people from our own cohort, plus the many others, and the consortium delivery partners, to share our progress on cultural leaderships and creative practice here in Staffordshire/Cheshire and the surrounding regions.  We’ve set our profile up on Padlet for ‘Create Place’, to keep in touch and explore future collaboration opportunities with other creative individuals and organisations on that programme. 

Throughout 2022, we continued taking an active role in weekly Zoom calls and discussions with other local social entrepreneurs and start-ups offering mutual support and peer learning (calls hosted by UnLtd).  We’re likely to have to reduce our involvement with this network moving forwards as our Founder & Director seeks other paid work, but hope to keep in touch with the progress of friends and colleagues we’ve established over the last several years.

Moving forwards, we’re continuing to partner with local VCSE support organisation VAST on the ‘S-o-T Community Health Champions’ project, securing a small follow-on funding pot to continue our work as a ‘Community Health Champion’ partner.  We continue to support this project with local public health messaging and communications, both face-to-face and digitally to our own communities in a way which conveys reliable and correct information and avoids mis-information.  We’ll also complete 2 case studies and share our Human-Nature work with VAST’s networks and other local VCSE organisations, plus attend regular Q & A and training sessions which will be helpful to our own organisation, as well as a helpful way of networking with other local community groups.

During 2022 we provided some free consultancy support to projects emerging in the Burslem area, looking at ways to regenerate the town centre and looking at ways to better utilise local assets, heritage buildings and reward volunteering.  This consultancy involved sharing our skills in Lean (elimination of all forms of waste in the manufacturing sector) and innovatively applying this methodology in a new way to help solve problems of waste in an urban renewal and community setting.

We continue our social media support and engagement with the wider public on environmental matters, promoting education on:

  • climate change awareness
  • 15 minute city and active travel
  • risks to loss of green space and biodiversity degradation
  • improving waste management and recycling/upcycling and circular economy
  • encouraging sustainable behaviours and sustainable living
  • emerging concepts like ‘degrowth’ – a move away from continual growth in GDP towards are fairer and more wellbeing focused economy which is sustainable for both humans and nature.

We also attended ‘carbon literacy’ training over 2 days, kindly provided by Staffordshire University.

Our Founder & Director (Project Lead) spent some time working with a local community narrowboat charity, volunteering for them as a crew member and helmsman, to gain experience and also explore ways to share experience and exchange learning, plus explore mutually beneficial opportunities of potential closer links between our two organisations and stakeholders/beneficiary groups.

It is the intention that the CIC will sell some of its ‘green exercise’ and ‘arts for wellbeing’ equipment assets (no longer required face-to-face activities) to bolster remaining funds and to help cover ongoing costs like accountancy fees, insurance and web hosting, enabling continuation of the digital wellbeing focused delivery.

2023 will be a crucial year, especially as we ‘scale back’ our face-to-face activities and migrate (through necessity) to a predominantly digital wellbeing and on-line creative community platform which is cheaper to sustain.  This does however give us a way to ‘scale up’ our digital activities to reach much wider and more diverse audiences, not just locally but throughout the UK — and beyond!

Above Image – Volunteering for Community Narrowboat Charity (Caldon Canal 2022)