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Restoring the link between people and woodlands

Welcome to the Team

Photo: A visual map of ideas and opportunities shared at the Healthy Planet, Healthy Wales conference in Cardiff.

Coed Lleol (Small Woods Wales) welcomes Natasha Simons to the team. She is our new Research and Evaluation Officer. In Natasha’s first blog she tells us a bit about herself, what she has been up to since she began in November, and what she hopes to achieve. Over to you Natasha:

Hello I’m Natasha,

My new role for Coed Lleol (Small Woods Wales) as Research and Evaluation Officer is to develop new avenues of research with academic partners and other potential partner organisations. I hope that this will provide rich new evidence to support the growth of Coed Lleol (Small Woods Wales) over time. I will also lead on the evaluation strategy for the organisation and support Small Woods staff and partner organisations with training and facilitation in this area.

Healthy Planet, Healthy Wales

Healthy Planet, Healthy Wales, a Welsh Public Health Conference took place in Cardiff in November. Its central focus was on the drivers of health and well-being that go beyond health care, to include healthy environment, healthy society, healthy economy and healthy community. Delegates from health, housing, education, social care, culture, heritage, technology, business and the third sector were all in attendance to think, network, discuss, generate and share solutions.

I attended the conference in my new role as Research and Evaluation Officer. Luckily, I had consumed my morning coffee because the conference started, ‘Strictly-come-dancing’ style with an interactive dance routine for all delegates! This was followed by an address from the first minister Carwyn Jones. The First Minister spoke eloquently about the connections between health and the environment, employment being the key to a promoting a healthy Wales and the need to put in place early intervention to combat growing mental health challenges, which effect 1 in 4 people in Wales at one stage in their life. Welsh Government’s Decarbonisation and Energy director Prys Davies spoke about improving our environment and our health by reducing meat consumption, improving air quality, reducing social isolation and creating better living conditions in communities. The morning held further presentations on Global Green and Healthy Hospitals and weight management via social prescribing and the National exercise referral scheme (NERS). All presentations related well to Coed Lleol (Small Woods Wales) and provided a great deal of evidence for the utility of our approach.

In the main hall over our vegan lunch, I engaged in many conversations surrounding health and wellbeing, highlighting the Actif Woods Wales programme and making connections for further research and possible partnerships. The Mental Health Foundation Wales were very enthusiastic about our work, and were interested to explore further how woodland programmes like ours can aid in recovery in people who have just received a mental health diagnosis. They were particularly interested in developing peer to peer learning opportunities that are self-sustaining long-term. The National Centre for Population Health and Wellbeing Research (NCPHWR) and Health and Care Research Wales were also interested in discussing research opportunities further.

The afternoon presentations were centred around creating healthy workplaces. It was interesting to note that the round-table discussion group I was part of, focused on their immediate environment as central to how they feel at work; this extended from the desk they worked at to the surrounding outdoor opportunities that were available to explore during break time and for outdoor meetings. Ongoing throughout the conference a visual map was being drawn by artists from Scarlet Designs. This mapped ideas and opportunities to promote a healthy Wales from the 800 delegates. I added a note about communities working together to look after woodlands that will in turn look after them. The conference was a great introduction for me to the many organisations in Wales working for greater health and wellbeing for all, and I was proud to be there to promote Coed Lleol (Small Woods Wales) and the Actif Woods Wales programme.

About me

I am an evaluation and visitor studies specialist with a focus on education. During my career I have evaluated a range of projects in different educational settings including: museums; interactive science centres; educational outreach in schools; charities events; and STEM festivals. I completed my PhD in 2016 at The University of Salford and I used the knowledge gained to start-up in evaluation. Originally from London, I have lived in Wales for over 15 years and brought up my two children here. My family and I also own a small 5-acre woodland in Monmouthshire which has opened-up a whole new world of coppicing, chopping and camp cooking to us!

To find out more about Coed Lleol (Small Woods Wales) research visit: www.coedlleol.org.uk/publications