Feel Good in the Forest is a social prescribing pilot project run by Forestry England in partnership with Sport England. It is part of a wider programme called Active Forests. The pilot aimed to address barriers to participation in forest-based activities, engage inactive and fairly active people with mild to moderate health conditions, deliver health and wellbeing outcomes and align with the evolving social prescribing sector. It ran for three years from 2019 but was extended by one year due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. It focused on Chopwell Wood in the northeast of England and Thames Chase Community Forest in the southeast.
1. How many took part in the social prescribing activities?
2. Is there evidence of participants sustaining or changing their physical activity levels?
3. What are the motivations and benefits of undertaking the social prescribing activities and the contribution of the forest environment to this?
4. What are the impacts on mental wellbeing?
Five focus groups with 35 participants highlighted the important impact of the activities on people’s mental wellbeing. The activities were also important in terms of the social connections people made with others. The project gave people more confidence in becoming physically active and sustaining or increasing their activity levels. The support of Active Forest Coordinators and activity leaders helped to motivate people to participate on a regular basis.
There was a total of 6,183 visits during the Social Prescribing Pilot, with 4,707 visits to Chopwell Wood and 1,476 to Thames Chase.
353 participants got involved at both sites.
A range of activities were developed and provided during the pilot from Nordic walking, seated exercise to walking and progressive pedalling.
There were lower scores for participants, for levels of happiness, life satisfaction, and feelings associated with whether the things people do in their life are worthwhile, than the national average for the England population. This is to be expected as Social Prescribing projects aim to reach these types of audiences.
In terms of mental health participants in the pilot experienced reduced mental wellbeing compared to a United Kingdom population sample. As outlined above this is to be expected and one of the aims of the FGITF pilot was to improve participants wellbeing. However, there were too few results to show any quantitative changes in people who participated in the programme, due to the challenges of collecting data from people facing a range of health and social problems. But, the qualitative did provide substantial evidence of improvements.
Respondents to the participant survey, follow-on survey, and group evaluation forms were very satisfied that the following goals had been met for participants: socially interacting, reducing social isolation, enjoying nature, contributing to mental wellbeing, and being physically active.
The Pilot participants from Chopwell Wood tended to be older, were more likely to have an illness of impairment and were from more deprived areas than the participants of the wider Active Forests Programme. There are too few results from Thames Chase to comment on this.
Forest Research undertook the monitoring and evaluation of the Social Prescribing Pilot Project which is part of the wider Active Forests Programme.
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The Active Forests Programme aims to create a physical activity habit for life for visitors to the nation’s forests in England. The programme provides engaging, inspirational and motivating physical activity opportunities for new and existing forest visitors. It is a partnership between Forestry England and Sport England and was evaluated by Forest Research.