Human-Nature – 2021 Review

Our 2021 Progress |  Face-to-Face & Digital Wellbeing

COVID Recovery – Need & Opportunity 

COVID continued disrupt, giving rise to uncertainty on how best to take forward our project and somewhat hindering our development plans.  Despite the challenges, we managed to re-instigate our face-to-face wellbeing activities for community, but weren’t able to implement our original plans for return-to-work wellbeing support for business employees, which we hoped to support our income generating business model.

In many respects our original plans for providing nature-based non-medical support for public sector & NHS workers, helping them to overcome workplace stress, are perhaps needed now more than ever.  The additional workload pressures, NHS backlogs, staff absences due to Omicron, risk more staff leaving the service.  This is likely to bring more staff to the brink of burnout.  The relentless work pressures will further impact staff moral and wellbeing, and increase the need for our type of wellbeing support.


Digital Developments – Extending Our Reach & Impact

The ongoing pandemic furthered our opportunity to pivot what we offer, both for community and workplace wellbeing. We continued development of our on-line self-care resources as digital wellbeing support.  This has taken our project way beyond its original target beneficiaries and our intention of providing face-to-face wellbeing activities for just local people.

This new on-line approach, has organically grown and broadened what we offer.  It has allowed us to digitally connect to many new beneficiaries and a much wider audience, increasing our geographical reach and impact.  The co-created approach we’ve adopted for the digital wellbeing e-books as ‘virtual nature escapes’, has now seen us now publish 3 book titles over our funding period:

  • ‘A Moment’s Notice’ (mindful photography)
  • ‘Uplifting Angels’ (landscape photography, with uplifting messages for NHS & key-workers)
  • ‘Poetry in Motion’ (nature photography & poetry).  

We plan to launch our 4th e-book project early 2022, called ‘Fascinating Finds’ (exploration and discovery about the wonders we find in nature and landscape).  This project might also engage the interest of families and younger people to help us create content for this new digital offering.

This co-created approach, drawing on the creative talents of the public, provides multi-layer beneficiaries, with us now connecting to contributors and beneficiaries UK-wide as ‘Friends with Human-Nature’:

  1. We encourage people to explore their our local natural/heritage landscapes to help us to create high quality wellbeing content.  This supports their wellbeing and gives them a sense of pride that their creative work is appreciated and valued, and gives fulfilment that they’re helping others.  Many new friendships have been made between us and our new contributors and between the contributors themselves.
  2. We share the wellbeing content (images and writing/poetry) via social media and our website, which engages more people in enjoying the e-book outputs as a therapeutic resource.  This reinforces wellbeing and positive mental health in a digital way, inspiring new people to engage in the co-creation of future e-books.  We’ve developed ideas for further e-book titles and themes that would gradually build into a complete library of on-line Human-Nature wellbeing books, with possibilities for printed versions.
  3. Those facing stress (eg socially isolated and shielding individuals and key workers in pressurised environments) are provided with helpful, relaxing and uplifting digital wellbeing resources, which allow a short virtual respite break away to nature, when access to nature is not physically possible.  For example time-pressured workers may only have short rest breaks, which can only be taken in the workplace, so a short digital ‘escape to nature’ may provide valuable respite.

Our social media platforms (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook & Linkedin) are now reaching nearly 3,000 followers and we’ve started to explore You Tube as a new channel to communicate through.


 Financials – Funding Our Work

During the year we concluded our funding award from the Coronavirus Community Support Fund (administered through The National Lottery Community Fund), which helped us through difficult trading times that would otherwise have forced our paid employee to furlough.  This would have prevented our project work continuing and removed continuity of support to beneficiaries.

We used some of this funding to explore ways to commercialise the ‘virtual nature escapes’ idea, through indoor ‘nature escape pods’ which might allow stressed workers short respite breaks away from front-line pressures.

We acquired around 70 new nature inspired printed books to act as a lending library of wellbeing resources that could be used during the pandemic period and beyond, to bolster wellbeing support for our regular participants.  These are also useful reference books to stimulate new ideas for our outdoor creative activities.  We also bought new equipment, including a rapid pop-up gazebo and garden games equipment which we’ve used in local green space canal-sides.  This will add a new outdoor (COVID safe) activity which might be appealing to those wanting to socialise outdoors with light exercise, particularly suitable for less mobile/less agile participants.

By the end of 2021, we’d  concluded the draw-down of our original Development Award from The National Lottery Community Fund.  After satisfactory reporting and confirming the finalisation of spend, both these funding awards were successfully signed off as completed by the local Funding Officer. 

We entered 2022, without major funding support, and now somewhat reliant on historical reserves (plus any newly gained income) to cover our ongoing costs, like insurance and web-hosting etc.  We will submit applications for follow-on funding in due course, once Omicron Wave and the political/economic uncertainties ease, as theses are currently causing us to delay application submissions.  Our paid employee (Founder & Director) has had to cease drawing a salary from the start of 2022, until our funding situation improves and/or our earned income increases.  We have now been operating for 6 years, but have to recognise that we remain largely funding dependant, despite considerable efforts to develop new income streams as a trading social enterprise.  


Success with Stoke’s Stakeholders 

We remain focused on local community and local business as key stakeholders, but increasingly connecting to new beneficiaries UK-wide.

During the early part of 2021, we concluded our attendance on the ‘Create Place Cultural Leadership’ programme.  This has been an excellent opportunity to interact and explore collaborative opportunities with other local creatives, beyond our usual collaborators in the VCSE sector.  Throughout 2021, we continued to take 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), where we’re now seen as one of the more well-established local enterprises.

We engaged more widely with stakeholders through new collaborative partnerships, some of which were income generating, with us acting in a paid consultancy capacity.  We worked with academics and students on a ‘15 Minute City/Campus’ project as a community partner organisation, exploring and mapping active travel routes for walking and cycling around Stoke.  Human-Nature became a Community Health Champion partner with VAST, working collaboratively with other champion organisations to accurately communicate health information to our respective communities of interest.  As a community partner we’ve collaboratively supported funding bids for Stoke Creates, Staffordshire University and Keele University.

On the environmental side we’ve continued working with local resident groups to campaign against loss of local green spaces to housing development.  We’ve supported them with our green space wellbeing expertise, gathering site data, supporting leaflet drops, and attending protest events to help get our collective community voices heard. 

During 2021 we continued gathering stakeholders feedback and testimonial statements as to the value of our digital wellbeing e-book resources from those helping us co-create them, and those who enjoy reading them as on-line therapeutic resource.  This has included testimonial and numeric data feedback by us developing our own on-line surveys (via Survey Planet), allowing us to gather and analyse the value of the e-books, plus gathering suggestions on how we might improve.

We continue to make these on-line wellbeing resources available to NHS and blue light emergency services workers, who might feel uplifted by a ‘virtual nature escape’ away from the pandemic, when frontline pressures only allow them a short break away from their duties.  We know many frontline workers face extreme workload pressures and the risk of burnout, so it feels good that our project is communicating the public’s support and giving key workers a lift, with our mindful nature and landscape photograph images and uplifting comments and poetry.

From feedback from these stakeholders we are looking at how we might best present the e-books moving forwards, possibly as a digital app, with user preference settings as to whether to include text, music, sounds and to control the speed. We’re also looking at providing these e-books as PDF flip books or as hard copy resources which we can add to our wellbeing library of books, or provide in hard copy format to new potential users, like mental health wards, hospices, NHS wellbeing libraries or mental health support organisations.

Through our digital developments we can see the potential for Human-Nature to be at the forefront of the development of virtual nature experiences and nature-based wellbeing resources that might be socially prescribed in a digital/on-line format – perhaps allowing us to position ourselves as a  leader in digital ‘green prescribing’.  This digital strategy approach reaching wider beneficiaries perhaps in a lighter touch way, might work in parallel with our ambition to become a canals-based narrowboat project providing wellbeing support in our locality to a much deeper level through our face-to-face activities and connection to local nature and heritage landscapes for wellbeing.  

Over the development funding period we’ve broadened our approach to go beyond human wellbeing and a positive mental health approach, developing the potential of our ‘Nature’s Ways to Wellbeing’ to embrace an environmental wellbeing focus too.  COP26 indicated the urgency, and the need for all individuals and organisations to play their part – including community project’s like ours.

We think our model and canals-based approach which would be environmentally friendly, water-borne and mobile, would give us a strong footing to be a leader in approaches which combine ‘human & nature’s wellbeing’ and engage citizens in thinking and actioning ideas which not only improve their wellbeing (by community health creation and illness prevention), but also allow positive actions to improve the planet (taking local actions to address pressing environmental problems like climate change).

In order to prepare us for follow-on funding applications from The National Lottery Community Fund (or other suitable higher value funders) in August 2021 we ran a full week ‘proof of concept’ exercise, engaging our local communities, social enterprise colleagues, local creatives and local environmental enthusiasts in canal-based activities and boat trips from Etruria (Stoke) and Red Bull (Kidsgrove), exploring how we’d draw value from local natural and heritage assets and the canal corridor as a green/blue space for wellbeing and environmental action.


What Floats Your Boat – Community Conversations  

We held an extensive ‘community conversations’ 1 day drop-in/free-flow exercise with local residents/community, supporters and passers-by to review our project’s progress to date and how we might take our project forwards to meet their needs. 


We showcased our wellbeing equipment and new wellbeing book library, with new banner stands featuring new branding and logos, to give a flavour of what our future vision, activities and services might be look like, both for community and business.  We invited feedback via an interactive ‘dotmocracy’ board (democratic evaluation) process.  This covered not only what the ‘wants and needs’ were, but also evaluated what community and business might be ‘willing to pay for’.  From this evaluation and consultation process, we’ve determined the priority order for our future activities and services and what might work for longer term income generation.  We’ve also started to explore the possibility of some income generating Human-Nature high-end saleable products.


Time Flies – 6 Years Young  

Our project reached its 6th Birthday in December.

We’ve retain a number of regular participants to wellbeing activities, who’ve now been with us for over 5 years, and who have continued to help shape our activities and direction as our Advocates.  Hopefully this is a good indication that we’re doing something right – that people have enjoyed coming along for many years now.

We saw during the lockdown periods that people really did value escaping to nature sites, local parks and their own back gardens and people seemed to enjoy the distraction of taking up creative hobbies – which is very well aligned to our own ‘Nature’s Ways to Wellbeing’ approach.  Moving forwards, outdoor creative activities like ours, can provide a safe way for people to get back to interacting and socialising, whilst regaining a sense of wellbeing.  So hopefully we’re well placed to play an active role in COVID recovery and realising a new normal.