TCV (The Conservation Volunteers) was established in the 1950s and, as the name will suggest, has been involved in getting people outdoors and contributing to the conservation of their local greenspaces ever since.
What might be a bit more of a surprise, but answers straight away why we are involved with VHS, is the vision of the charity – “Healthier, Happier Communities for all”. This is because TCV is not about nature or conservation just for its own sake. We have always, and will always see Nature and Greenspaces as critical – but it is the impact they can have for people which lies at the heart of our work. Our newly refreshed strategy captures this in the simple mission statement: “‘to connect people and green places to deliver lasting outcomes for both”. TCV therefore uses connections to green places as a tool to deliver a wide range of employability, volunteering, community and of course health programmes.
The most well known of these is TCV’s Green Gym programme. The very first Green Gym celebrates its 20th year this year and all across the UK Green Gym provides fun and free outdoor sessions where participants are guided in practical activities such as planting trees, sowing meadows and establishing wildlife ponds. Unlike other conservation projects, this group based physical activity with a purpose has a clear focus on health and wellbeing; volunteers warm up and cool down in preparation for a range of light to vigorous activities to suit all abilities, using their efforts to leave lasting improvements for communities and green spaces.
In Scotland we are working increasingly closely with the NHS, in particular with funding from the Green Exercise Partnership and through the Our Natural Health Service programme. We manage Senior Project Officers who work to deliver Greenspace for Health projects on three Demonstration hospitals – Gartnavel in Glasgow, University Hospital Ayr and New Craigs in Inverness. These and many of our other projects across Scotland increasingly demonstrate the crucial role Greenspaces and volunteering can play in the long term treatment and recovery of a range of mental and physical health conditions:
Gartnavel Growing Spaces volunteer:
“While I was an in-patient at Gartnavel Royal, a Patient Activity Coordinator brought a group of us to the garden. I’d never seen it before and thought it was a magical place. I got in touch about volunteering after I was discharged. For the first couple of months there were times when I didn’t feel like getting out of bed, but this feels like a safe place to come even when I’m not feeling good. That’s because people respect your privacy and there’s no judgement.
The problem with depression is losing a sense of purpose and hope – the garden really helps with that. I enjoy the learning too: finding out how plants grow reinforces my sense of being able to learn.”
The demonstration hospital projects, like all our projects, emphasise the critical need for cross sector partnership working. TCV Senior Project officers may be able to deliver excellent conservation volunteering opportunities. They can improve greenspaces whilst providing tailored and flexible programmes to engage and improve the health and wellbeing of participants. But they can’t do any of this without strong partnerships with clinicians within the NHS directing patients to the programmes and supporting their participation. They can deliver volunteering opportunities which address social isolation and improve community connections – but only by working closely with local housing associations and community development experts. They can tailor green health programmes to a range of participants, delivering programmes focused on older volunteers, or disability groups – but only by working closely with organisations with expertise in those areas.
Above all, to create a large scale structure which delivers realistic referral and social prescribing pathways we need to link our programmes with a wealth of other volunteering, community and health programmes and present these as a coherent package which can be integrated into the structures of the NHS. Supporting this wide scale collaboration and bringing together partnerships is one of the key roles VHS provides and ultimately explains – what’s a conservation organisation doing in Voluntary Health Scotland.
Dom Hall is Operations Leader at TCV. He’s based in Glasgow and manages a range of programmes across Scotland. If you’d like to get in touch about working together or to find out more about what TCV does, drop him an email on firstname.lastname@example.org
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