Branching Out supports people with chronic mental health conditions and helps to overcome local issues such as isolation, lack of access to appropriate services and stigma which can be exacerbated in rural areas. Activities include cooking food on a camp fire, building shelters, walking, practicing tai-chi, making crafts or exercising mindfulness. The natural landscape provides the perfect setting for encouraging enhanced quality of life, engagement in social activities and peer to peer support through teamwork in the woods.

During the pandemic, Branching Out leaders have adapted the programme to be able to support participants at home. Social distancing and isolation are the exact opposite of what the Branching Out team is usually trying to achieve. The Branching Out team have designed innovative and creative ways to keep people engaged with nature and each other throughout this difficult time. The team have been providing activity packs by post, safe online platforms with nature-based content for virtual engagement and social interaction and weekly phone calls for those who want it. The posted packs include different activities such as woodworking kits, modelling clay, yoga exercises, drawing pads, quiz sheets, seed planting and local help line information.

Now, with the easing of restrictions, new outdoor programmes are imminent and participants will once again be able to partake in the programmes outside. 

Branching Out is a national partnership programme between NHS, Scottish Forestry and community organisations providing 12-week programmes of woodland activities for people on referral from mental health services. ACT’s role in the project has been to establish a network across Argyll and the Isles. This provision of an area-wide umbrella organisation is unique to Argyll and has proved extremely successful. Our approach is considered nationally as an example of best practice.