Primary - Adding to quality of life - spiritual value: 2007 Faith Woodlands

RWS theme
Quality of Life: “To promote and support ‘green exercise’ through primary care trusts, community partnerships and local land owners.” Action: QL2a

The association between an inter-faith group and an environmental body is delivering a real health dividend. The Luton Council of Faiths and the Forestry Commission have teamed up to address social exclusion and health issues in Bedfordshire. A suitable site has been selected and Forest Ranger hosted walks have been undertaken with Muslim women. As this activity increases so social inclusion is being improved and health and enjoyment of life rising, whilst physical and mental ill-health commensurately fall.

Luton and Bedford are amongst the most deprived areas in the East of England with higher early mortality rates and incidence of heart disease than elsewhere. Both towns have significant Black Minority Ethnic (BME) populations.

A significant body of evidence shows there are health and well-being benefits to be derived from contact with nature. Research has found BME are under-represented as visitors to greenspace and nature sites. Thus encouraging these communities’ involvement with natural sites is potentially highly beneficial.

Initiative description
By working through established faith communities Luton BME’s access to countryside has been encouraged and the ‘the woodland bonus’ (of health, education and recreation) within reach.

Lesson(s) learned
This combination of inter-faith groups, with their prodigious community outreach capabilities, coupled to the Forestry Commission’s extensive woodland resource is a potentially powerful success factor. However, the cultural barrier is a considerable one. So continuity of effort and persistence are equally vital if the valuable woodland bonus is to be realised amongst BMEs.

Future developments
This promising start is encouraging the scheme to be extended to other accessible areas of woodland in Bedfordshire.

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