Leeds Hospitals Charity is the lead NHS charity responsible for distributing the stage 2 funding in West Yorkshire and Harrogate on behalf of NHS Charities Together. In August 2021, Leeds Hospitals Charity received £1.1 million of NHSCT funding to support 22 projects across West Yorkshire and Harrogate. The projects were selected based on what we know will make the greatest impact and to support groups within our local community.

Read more: NHS Charities Together - Our Partnership

One of those chosen projects was delivered by North England Activities and Training (NEAT), a charity supporting out of school activities for young people and training for adult leaders of such activities. NEAT received over £22,000 to help support their work and undertake a 2-year project focusing on mental health through outdoor experience and an outdoor leadership training scheme.

Most of the charity’s work has been focused in Bradford with ethnically diverse groups, supporting these groups with exploring the countryside, aiming to positively improve individuals’ mental health and wellbeing. Through this funding NEAT have been able to offer shared transport to these outdoor spaces, increasing groups access to countryside areas and new spaces, while having minimal environmental impact. These groups also provide a social opportunity to members, helping tackle social isolation and a chance to connect with others in the local community.

As the project has developed participants have completed mood self-assessments and the team have seen average of 20% improvement in positive feelings and 30% reduction in negative emotions since the walks begun. A key aim of the project is to highlight the benefits of the outdoors and demonstrate how to safely engage with nature, so that participants can take these learnings forward into their everyday lives to help support the improvement of their mental health and wellbeing.

Chris Johnson, Chair of Trustees for NEAT said:

“Throughout this project, we have seen first-hand the positive difference these walks have made to individuals. We knew there were some challenges to help overcome, such as transport issues, mobility, isolation, so from the beginning we planned to overcome these obstacles to ensure our project was accessible to everyone. For example, we were able to provide transport via a minibus, which would pick up and drop off participants and ensuring our routes for these walks were accessible for everyone taking part.

Being outdoors has so many positive benefits for your mental health, and it’s been a fantastic opportunity to be able to take these groups into new spaces and explore the countryside and see what a difference it can make to their wellbeing.”

Read more: NHS Charities Together Funding Impact

The second half of this project focused on the NHS Walk Leader Level 2 training, offering individuals the opportunity to take part in a walk leader training programme. These training sessions helped individuals grow their skills to then be able to lead walking groups in their local areas and in the countryside.

Zatoon, a Development Worker at a Community Centre in Bradford, was one of the participants who took part in the walk leader training programme.

“Throughout the lockdowns it really highlighted the value of being able to get outside and be active and even after the restrictions were lifted, we knew a lot of our communities were not getting the chance to go out and do anything physical. Once the lockdowns were over, we tried to get some small groups together to go for small gentle walks in the park but as this developed, we weren’t sure on other local places to explore.

The walk leader training has been so beneficial to us as a community centre as it has built our confidence with not only leading these groups but gaining the knowledge of these new areas to explore without our local community. We gained skills with map reading and using a compass, and this is all knowledge we have been able to share with members of our community.

As we continue to develop our walking groups, we want to continue sharing our knowledge and give that confidence to members of our groups to be able to carry this forward and become independent on their walks. The funding for this programme has been such a positive thing for the centre and our community as we’ve been able to share our learnings and support individuals to continue exploring the outside, which has huge benefits for their mental health and wellbeing.”