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Wellbeing of the Woods

Glasgow-based socially engaged photography specialists, Open Aye created the Wellbeing of the Woods (WOW) programme to connect communities, woodlands and creativity for the benefit of people and the planet. Sessions bring people together in urban forests to share experiences in nature.

Wellbeing of the Woods

Glasgow-based socially engaged photography specialists, Open Aye created the Wellbeing of the Woods (WOW) programme to connect communities, woodlands and creativity for the benefit of people and the planet. Sessions bring people together in urban forests to share experiences in nature.

More about Wellbeing of the Woods

Play Video

Learn more about Open Aye’s Wellbeing of the Woods programme and how it was adapted during lockdown in 2020/21.

Open Aye devised Wellbeing of the Woods (WOW) in 2017, to provide nature-based participatory photography workshops, to diverse groups in Glasgow, Scotland. The project’s focus is to sensitively facilitate creativity in woodlands. The sessions offer feel-good group photo walks to improve physical and mental health, whilst also introducing many people to Scottish urban forests for the first time.
Many WOW participants have had issues with mental ill health, varying from anxiety and depression to post traumatic stress disorder. Participants have been recruited from partner organisations, including Glasgow Association of Mental Health (GAMH), Scottish Refugee Council (SRC), The British Red Cross (BRC) and Aberlour Scottish Guardianship Service (SGS) among others. In addition, a number of sessions have taken place as part of the Mental Health Foundation’s Scottish Mental Health Arts Festivals, 2017-2019. With these partners, Open Aye provides projects with therapeutic, research and advocacy outputs that positively influence the wellbeing of the individuals that take part.
Play Video

Learn more about Open Aye’s Wellbeing of the Woods programme and how it was adapted during lockdown in 2020/21.

The Wellbeing of the Woods project helped me to see things differently. Being creative in the woods … It allows you your own interpretation of the world…

How the work started
How the work started

Open Aye has been working with social enterprises, charities and community groups since 2010. The organisation offers to create participatory photo projects around any issue, need or group and has documented the positive impacts of its work upon diverse communities of participants.

The WOW project follows the New Economics Foundation’s 5 Ways to Wellbeing model: Connect, Give, Be Active, Take Notice & Keep Learning. Using creative methodologies in a woodland environment provides a natural sensory stimulation that fosters a calming state of meditative relaxation and invigoration. Open Aye believes that it is in this flow state that transformation can occur, improving personal wellbeing. The project uses social action research methods to identify different groups’ understandings of wellbeing and explores how these could be enhanced by creative practice in a woodland environment. Sustained benefits of this creative woodland group work include: strengthening a person’s ability to see things differently; giving a sense of perspective; the creation, enhancement and recalling of positive memories; fostering interpersonal relationships, improved self-esteem, personal growth and engagement in environmental stewardship.

I suffer from anxiety. I am trying to combat it. This course helped me with my anxiety and got me out and about … I went to this course worrying what to expect but it was very relaxing and a great experience. I learned how to use a camera, how to make stories with pictures. It also highlighted different sides of homelessness to me.

Expanding the work

Expanding the work ...

To date, around 500 people, from 25 countries, have taken part in 400+ visits to green spaces. These photo walks are free to access, thanks to support and funding from (for example) Scottish Forestry, Corra Foundation, Glasgow Mental Health & Wellbeing Fund and through commissions from various charity partners.

Three quarters of WOW participants are refugees, living in Scotland, or are seeking sanctuary. In addition to the usual physical and mental health benefits of exercise and creativity, the WOW project lends itself to creating safe social spaces for people who may not know each other (or even speak the same language) to come together, and have the collective experience of seeking out beauty in the natural world.

For refugee groups, the WOW project has added benefits of ESOL provision (English for Speakers of Other Languages), peer mentoring, digital skills sharing, volunteering experience, orientation and integration.

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