Public Health England’s national Director of Health and Wellbeing joined health and sport professionals to see the New Forest National Park’s innovative schemes to improve our health and wellbeing.
The visit by Professor Kevin Fenton on Friday 1 April, followed a workshop hosted last year by the National Park Authority to discuss what New Forest organisations were already doing to support people’s physical and mental health and how new initiatives can be developed.
The group first visited Blackwater Arboretum to see the PedAll inclusive cycling initiative. The scheme, started by the New Forest National Park Authority and now a charity, uses specially adapted bikes and trikes to take people of all ages and abilities out into the Forest.
They also visited Pondhead Conservation Trust – a community wood being managed by volunteers. As well as helping people benefit from active volunteering, the Trust has hosted outdoor art sessions led by Sway-based charity Hampshire Art for Recreation and Therapy (hArt) to help improve people’s wellbeing.
The day ended with a talk from the New Forest Marque local produce scheme and Walking for Health led by Community First New Forest, which has over 50 groups in the National Park. Walking group members include people who have been referred by GPs who recommend the outdoors activity as part of their treatment.
Other initiatives include wild play days led by National Park rangers to get families closer to nature; healthy eating through the New Forest Marque, dementia awareness training for staff; and encouraging confidence and skills through youth projects.
Professor Kevin Fenton, Director of Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England, said: “The pressures of everyday living, for example sitting down for eight hours a day at work or a busy family schedule, can make it difficult to make healthier choices. Having a National Park in your community provides a great opportunity to use outside space to support healthy living by promoting physical activity, mental wellbeing and opportunities to connect with others.”
Dr Sallie Bacon, Hampshire County Council’s Interim Director of Public Health, said: “Today has shown that by working and learning together and sharing data, skills and best practice we can make the most of the opportunities for improving health and well-being that the National Park offers and really make a difference to people’s lives.”
New Forest National Park Authority Chairman Oliver Crosthwaite Eyre said: “We’re delighted that colleagues from Public Health England; National Parks England; the West Hampshire Clinical Commissioning Group; Sport Hampshire and Isle of Wight; Hampshire County Council and New Forest District Council could join us today to discuss how the National Park can make its contribution towards improving people’s health and wellbeing.
“Through working together we can explore how this invaluable natural resource might complement more traditional approaches to help us improve our physical health and cope with the stresses of everyday life.”