This engagement work involved 8 woodland engagement sessions which started by meeting in Southside Community Centre’s garden and included a 25 minute Health walk- past city tree-planted area between Gibbs Entry , Hillcrest Futures Hub , The Crags Sports centre , along to St Leonard Hill, and St Leonard Crag, into Holyrood Park and along Duddingston Low Road, crossing the innocent railway to a wooded area into the secluded and magical site called “The Wells o Wearie” – featuring 3 ponds which are all that is left of a dozen healing sacred wells dating back to the 1500’s.
Across these woodland engagement sessions, we worked with a diverse group of 30+ individuals from Edinburgh Southside’s mental health community. This we did through collaboration with Southside Community Centre’s Coorie-in “well-being pact “initiative.
We used a wooded area in Holyrood Park’s Wells o’ Wearie Site. Here we delivered a successful series of outdoor music /writing sessions with a diverse group of clients, of low socio-economic status, many being hard to reach/ out of reach individuals, with mental illnesses and disabilities. These historically marginalized clients came to us via a range of support organisations, such as:
- Hillcrest Futures – Very local hub supporting vulnerable people to learn vital independent living skills and experience recreational, educational and social opportunities They include with physical and learning disabilities, mental health, Autism, homelessness, substance dependencies and older people in different settings throughout Scotland
- Penumbra – a pioneering charity providing dedicated services for people with mild to serious and enduring mental ill health
- Contact Point– emotional, social and practical support to adults who are vulnerable and who feel isolated
- Turning Point – people centered support for those needing our support with their drug and alcohol use, mental health, offending behaviour, unemployment issues and people with a learning disability
- The Royal, Edinburgh NHS Lothian Psychiatric Hospital – (this was a client coming accompanied by their OT’s)
- No6 – Autistic Spectrum Support
- Ballenden House – local medical clinic
- Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous – support for recovering addicts.
We also had additional elderly participants coming from two local retirement housing Home crag House (East Cross Causeway) and Viewpoint Housing (Nicolson Street) and from Positive Futures (Inter-faith over 60’s group).
These sessions had a nature–inspired music theme and involved song-writing and poetry-writing delivered by 3 creatives, from Creative Art Works CIC funded by Scottish Forestry, including Joanna Boyce, community artist), singer-songwriter John Cunningham and Ralph Turner the peer-worker musician from Om Music Sanctuary who delivers the music sessions after our Wednesday Coorie In Lunch Club. Lindsay Snedden from Lunaria Design, joined on 2 sessions to take photographs.
To help us involve every sense and give participants a complete sensory experience, we invited a Polish wild food forager, Szymon from “Foragerium”, to our final 2 sessions. Symons’s expertise, further helped the group connect with nature adding a wild food foraging walk along our tree-trail.
Participants enjoyed nibbling young hawthorn and beech leaves and other edible plants, so abundant along our route. We used the Woodland happy family cards, during the last two sessions and all participants received a pack to take away.
Over the 8 weeks of delivery, the arts-practioners worked with the group surrounded by trees and nature, giving us all not only the freedom of the breeze and the great outdoors but also the protection and security of the woodland canopy.
The resulting poems and song (both attached) speak for themselves.
As well as writing and sharing the words written the group worked with the musicians to take parts of each of their poems and create a song which they put melody and instruments to, creating a moving and beautiful song.
Some of the words of the poems and lyrics produced we intend to bring back to the garden in the form of signage – or even as words painted, carved or pyro-graphed into wooden garden benches and planters.
What we have also established is a 25-minute health walk, taking groups from the central meeting point of The Southside Community Centre garden, on Nicolson Street in the heart of Edinburgh’s Southside , via an historically interesting city walk , deep into city greenspace – home to a huge variety of trees, edible plants, birds and other city wildlife – leading us to an accessible yet private secluded space where we can always return to find rest and solace from the hustle and bustle of the city.
On rainier, colder days, the sessions ended with a shortcut back to the community centre, through the Innocent Railway’s tunnel to St Leonard’s. This tunnel not only gave us shelter but with its man-made arches, dark rather spooky walkway and eclectic, sometimes crude graffiti on the walls, it gave a stark reminder of the contrasting beauty, green and comfort of the woodlands!
This is a great wee walk, I can’t wait to come again
I feel so good here – I want to come back – of course I want to come back
I’m so glad I came today, it has been such a beautiful day and I’ve met so many people and this is the most relaxed I’ve felt in months
It’s like coming out of a cage, to come here and be in the fresh air. It gives you goosebumps that nature can be so beautiful
What an absolute wonderful day – we all enjoyed it so much. Singing, writing poetry and the woodland walk
What happens here in the woods when we come together is so special – what a beautiful day
I lived homeless on the street for 20 yrs, to tell you the truth I’m nae’ that bothered about going outdoors – but today has been different – it’s been great to feel the breeze and see all the forestry and hear the birds chirping. It’s made me want to be out and yes, I’d come again.