Human-Nature – 2018 Review

Human-Nature |  2018 review

Here’s our review of the CIC’s activities and progress over the past year.  It’s a review of both the highs and the lows of keeping our community project up and running – providing benefits to the wellbeing of the local community and the local environment – ‘human‘ & ‘nature‘.


What We Did & Why |  our impact

During 2018 we established and built stronger links with other organisations, including collaborations with other social enterprises, new artists, potential customers and newly emerging partners.


We continued to deliver regular weekly activities for improved community wellbeing and ‘health creation’. We see the longer term potential of becoming a wellbeing activity provider in the emerging ‘social prescribing’ market. The government is now placing more emphasis on the ‘prevention’ agenda, and looking to the VCSE and Community sectors to help keep people fit and well and out of the NHS system. In the short term however, certainly in the Staffordshire area, it seems that NHS/CCG/local authority funding is not yet ‘following the patient’ to pay for wellbeing services provided by community. With our range of activities, we hope we’re well placed to provide wellbeing services under the ‘social prescribing’ banner in the longer term, but would need to see flow-down of funding to help finance our activities, to help keep our project sustainable.


Income generation from Nordic Walking delivered direct to paying customers was not sustained at the 2017 levels.  This was possibly due to one local authority offering Nordic walking from local parks for free, as a result of their own funding through ‘Park Lives’ (Coca Cola). We did however successfully deliver a series of  ‘Canal and Countryside Walks‘ (over 10 weeks) in various parts of Staffordshire, for which we were paid through funding secured from social enterprise Forest of Hearts (originating from Subway/Heart Research UK – Healthy Hearts Programme).  Due to its popularity, we ran a further schedule as a fortnighly series of ‘Green & Blue Walks‘ – with our ‘escapees’ enjoying visits to ‘green’ open countryside and ‘blue’ waterside locations.


  Photo – Mindful Photography (on a walk to Three Shires Head)


We also secured additional income from ‘arts for wellbeing’ community activities (pottery themed) in conjunction with a local ceramic artist. This included working on a new local currency/volunteer reward scheme called ‘Counter Coin’ (an initiative by Hometown Plus, funded from an award from UnLtd). This was based around our own original idea of making coins in clay and engaging the local community in working with us to design of 7 coins (one for each local home town) and then making the coins in a cost effective way, using local volunteers. This culminated in a ‘challenge event’ day where each local home town simultaneously hosted an event at local community venues, to see which town could make the most clay coins as a fun competition. This initiative reached hundreds of people across our local 7 home town communities across North Staffordshire, including Stoke, Newcastle, Fenton, Longton, Burslem, Tunstall and Hanley.  This included people right across the age spectrum, including young people and schools groups.  For some this would have been a new experience of making pottery – connecting to our local Potteries culture and industrial heritage, and crafting items from clay materials dug from local Staffordshire landscapes.


Human-Nature Escapes CIC - Culture Coin 3

Photo – Clay Counter Coin Project


Throughout the year we continued to offer our weekly ‘Natter in Nature’ walks (for free) to our ‘Friends with Human-Nature’ group of regular participants. This included some ‘Mindful Photography’ and ‘Poetry Walking’ on some walks, which saw us explore locations further afield – into the Staffordshire Moorlands, Mid/South Staffordshire and parts of South Cheshire. Participants’ poetry and photography work was shared via website posts (with consent), with some participants’ photo images being on display at the Photographers Collective North Staffordshire Exhibition at Staffs Uni (open until Feb 2019). We also attracted new participants who used our group activities to improve their wellbeing, helping them to successfully ‘return to work’ after periods of absence.


Human-Nature Escapes CIC - Photo Exhibition   Photo CNS logo
 Photo – Participant Photos at the Photographers Collective Exhibition


Developing a service for supporting individuals to ‘return to work’ (or ‘stay in work’) remains a priority for us, and offers an opportunity for chargeable services, which will help us to become income generating and financially sustainable. To this end we’ve designed a ‘pilot study’ which we hope to run during 2019, aimed at gathering valuable data evidence on how our ‘Nature’s Ways to Wellbeing’ approach helps working individuals recover from stress and gain new resilience skills to prevent relapse. We’ve now found 3 major local employers with genuine interest in this service and willing to put forward participants for our proposed pilot in the coming year.


Human-Nature Escapes CIC - Strong Again

Photo – ‘Strong Again’ – Imagery to show how nature can help re-build strength and resilience

During the year we spent considerable time trying to secure larger funding awards, including Nesta’s ‘Rethinking Parks’, which saw us explore the use of digital technology in an innovative way – to potentially develop a digital health app linked to our ‘Nature’s Ways to Wellbeing’ approach, which would enable us to reach a much wider audience. Whilst this was unsuccessful, it did see us achieve interest from a national organisation with considerable digital expertise, who seem willing to partner with us to develop our ‘digital health app’ idea. We’ve since submitted this as an idea/expression of interest to the recently announced Big Lottery Digital Fund, and we await feedback in January on our proposal.

As mentioned in the previous report, we’ve struggled to secure an operating base from within a local green space park.  Increasingly we recognise, that to be successful, we need a definitive base to work out of – a place where we’re known to operate from and a place we can call home. Through participant feedback, we’ve recognised that ‘cultural landscapes’ (those linking to our cultural and industrial heritage) instill a sense of place and belonging.  These are probably just as important to wellbeing as the ‘natural landscapes’ (green spaces) that we enjoy. We’ve discovered that walking the local canals gives an all-important ‘sense of place’ connection, whilst the slower pace of life on the canals seems particularly conducive to positive wellbeing, especially for people with stress/anxiety conditions. We therefore are now actively pursuing ideas that might centre our project around the local canal system as a therapeutic green/blue space environment.  This might allow us to combine the benefits of therapeutic ‘natural’ and ‘cultural’ landscapes – possibly using a narrowboat as a moveable/mobile base for our project, but one that might have a recognised home mooring location.


Human-Nature Escapes CIC - Silverdale Country Park
Photo – Silverdale Country Park Volunteers (raising the Green Flay Award for 2018/19)


We’ve also recognised the potential in our brand ‘Human-Nature’ to embrace not only human wellbeing, but the wellbeing of the environment too. This is especially important now as the scientific evidence on global warming builds, and now points to impending jeopardy of the planet, which will start to threaten our human existence. In view of the need for all organisations to become more environmentally focused, and in order to strike a more even balance between our social and environmental purpose, we took up new volunteering initiative at Silverdale Country Park, joining forces with Groundwork West Midlands/The Land Trust Ranger and their weekly working party, to undertake nature and wildlife conservation tasks.


Later in the year, and to pursue our idea of linking to the local canals, we formally adopted a section of local canal as a community partner with Canal & River Trust. We now run fortnightly ‘nature conservation’ activities of our own with our ‘Friends with Human-Nature’ group – including regular litter picks, trimming back vegetation, and helping with general maintenance tasks. This enables our group to gain a sense of pride in maintaining their own patch, and makes for a more pleasant environment for the wider community to enjoy for their own wellbeing.


Human-Nature Escapes CIC - Red Bull Wharf Buildings
Photos – Red Bull Wharf – Canals as Cultural Landscapes


We also recognised that to grow our project and realise our ambitions to base our project on the canals, and to complete a full pilot study of our nature based intervention for stress, we need now to secure some considerable funding and capital investment. To this end we submitted an application to Big Lottery ‘Reaching Communities’ for a significant value of award, having successfully secured one third of this value as a ‘matched funding’ promise from other sources. We have now successfully won through to the final stage of that application, with a final decision pending (due Jan 2019). This success of achieving this award is now becoming very important to our growth and future sustainability plans.


How We Communicated |  stakeholder engagement

We continued to collaborate with other social enterprises within the local VCSE sector, including attending meetings and conferences on:


  • Social Prescribing (regionally and nationally)
  • Staffordshire ‘Place of Social Enterprise’
  • Newcastle Town Social Enterprise Hub (informal collective)
  • UnLtd ‘Resilient Communities’
We’ve started to host visits from (and hopefully inspire) other emerging and start-up social enterprises from other parts of the country, through our connections with School of Social Enterprise (SSE) and UnLtd. We’re set to be one of the local enterprises hosting ‘Learning Journeys’ with UnLtd in Jan 2019. We’ve also been one of social enterprises helping to spearhead a drive for Staffordshire to become a recognised ‘Place of Social Enterprise’ (with Social Enterprise UK), which was successfully achieved and set to be formally announced in the New Year.


Video – Click to play video on ‘Social Enterprise Places’

Our Big Lottery application has seen us regularly consult with our participants (i.e. weekly verbal updates) over our plans to take our project to the canals, inviting them to help shape the direction of future wellbeing activities that might be appropriate for a canals/narrowboat based project. The application also saw us secure 10 letters of support from previous funders, participants, partners and potential future customers, who seem supportive of the progress we’ve made to date, the wellbeing activities we now offer, and our proposed way forward.


Human-Nature Escapes CIC - Narrowboat at Red Bull Wharf
Photo – Friends with Human Nature (passing a narrowboat at Red Bull Wharf)


We’ve consulted with representatives from both Keele University and Staffordshire University on the design of the proposed 2019 ‘pilot study’, and will seek their professional research expertise in independently gathering the data and presenting the findings. We’ve also consulted with What Works Wellbeing to help design questionnaires and data gathering systems that will be used in the study and will be open to share our findings with other organisations interested in using nature based interventions for wellbeing and positive mental and physical health.


We held a meeting with local advocacy group Reach Asist, who encourage the voices of people with learning and mobility challenges to be heard – to assess their views and ideas about our plans for using the canals. Furthermore we joined the newly formed ‘Equality Alliance’ Group formed for Stoke and Staffordshire (#AllEqualS), attending their regular meetings, which will help to ensure our wellbeing activities attract a diverse range of participants.


On the governance side, we secured interest from 3 existing Advocates on our steering group (plus one newcomer) to become additional directors of the CIC, which would strengthen our board to 5 directors and prepare us for larger funding awards. We hope to retain the other Advocates (some of whom are regular participants) in an advisory capacity, encouraging them to contribute and continue to share their ideas, as well as their valuable knowledge, experience and skills – and provide an additional route for our participants and wider stakeholders to consult and communicate with our board.


We continued to grow our presence on social media with regular posts about our wellbeing activity exploits and the places we’ve visited on Twitter (1650+ followers), Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram – as well as our own website, which allows us to connect to wider audiences throughout the UK and beyond.


Human-Nature Escapes CIC - Nattter in Nature (Hanchurch)

Photo – A recent Winter walk at Hanchurch Woods (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

2019 will be an important year for our community project, but one which we look forward to with great anticipation and enthusiasm. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank our participants, volunteers, advocates, artists and followers for all their support over the past year – and as we take a break ourselves, we wish everyone happiness and our best wishes for Christmas and the New Year ahead.