Branching Out

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Artscapers from Spinney Community Primary School discovering their local woods, 2018
Artscapers from Spinney Community Primary School discovering their local woods, 2018

Branching Out is a partnership between Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination (CCI), Cambridge Acorn Project (CAP) and Fullscope (FS), with academic partners University College London (UCL) Institute of Education and Anglia Ruskin University (ARU). The project will investigate how elements of our established mental health art-in-nature programmes can be scaled up to benefit more children, contributing to a national research initiative seeking to understand how local, cultural, natural and community assets can mitigate health inequality.

In Detail
Amongst policy makers there is recognition of the need for creating the right environment and context to support children’s mental health in order to reduce the growing need for interventions from mental health services. Schools have been identified as having a key role in providing such support, yet they receive few resources to do so. This pilot training programme directly addresses this. Branching out will pilot new approaches to increase the capacity of schools to support children’s mental health:

  • 6 primary schools will recruit adult volunteers committed to undertaking a training programme as ‘community artscapers’ devised by CCI and CAP
  • New resources will be co-created with primary school artscapers from Mayfield Primary School, artist Suzanne Jasilek and researchers Gabby Arenge and Emily Dowdeswell to be used by community artscapers
  • The community artscapers will use the resources to deliver a programme of activity for small groups of children, with ongoing support from Susanne and a therapist from CAP
  •  Researchers will evaluate and ascertain the feasibility of this approach, considering capacity building and the potential of further scaling up of this model at a national level

Context
Professionals across health, social care and education sectors are increasingly concerned by the growing number of children requiring support for their mental health, and the subsequent increase in demand for mental health services. This has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. It is estimated that there could be as many as 1.5 million requiring added or new support with their mental health as a result.

Studies of the impact of Covid-19 on children’s mental health have found that regular time outdoors is associated with better mental health; supporting a wealth of previous research suggesting that substantial benefits for wellbeing may be derived from contact with nature. Despite this, children are spending less time outdoors, leading to societal concern about children’s loss of connection with the natural environment.

A novel way to approach this is through art in outdoor places, with evidence suggesting that the arts can aid physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development, as well as improving mental health and social inclusion.

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Aoife Greenham, a volunteer from ARU’s illustration programme, supporting students from Mayfield Primary School as they visited Eddington, 2018
Aoife Greenham, a volunteer from ARU’s illustration programme, supporting students from Mayfield Primary School as they visited Eddington, 2018

About
This project is supported by Fullscope, with the research fund managed by the UKRI on behalf of the Medical Research Council (MRC), the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). Collectively these research councils have sort to fund research to establish how cultural, natural and other community assets can mitigate health inequalities. This project is one of 12 across the uk. The National Centre for Creative Health are hosting this UK wide programme and you can read more about the initiative here.

The Branching Out research will be coordinated by Nicola Walshe, Hilary Bungay and Anna Dadswell. Read about Eco-capabilities, research into art-in-nature practice led by Nicola Walshe, here.