Our Branching Out project is all about bringing people together in nature to help them overcome difficulties and issues associated with their mental health. Social distancing is the exact opposite of what the Branching Out team is usually trying to achieve. In order to maintain duty of care to participants the team has come up with innovative ways to provide support through these difficult times. 

Working with Mid Argyll Community Learning, Jean's bothy, the Community Mental Health Teams and other partners on the ground, the Branching Out support now includes weekly phone calls to those that want it, activity packs sent by post and safe online platforms with nature-based content for virtual engagement and social interaction. 

The posted packs contain different activities including woodworking kits, modelling clay, wildlife ID, yoga exercises, seeds and compost for windowsill growing, drawing pads, quiz sheets, puzzle books, personalised items such as birthday cards, small goodies and local help line information. The team are creating and developing activities all the time and are currently working on more woodworking activities, such as planters and picnic benches, recycling and upcycling activities, daily challenges and recipes. The packs are being sent out regularly and contain progressive activities for participants.

Examples of some activity packs including puzzles, yoga exercises, building a wooden plant pot and planting seeds.

Online engagement is also important and local Zoom meetings and a private Facebook group provide opportunities for social interaction. Branching Out leaders are creating nature-based content which has so far included filming woodland walks and the planting of seeds. They have also set up remote wildlife cameras Springwatch-style. 

The team effort has been met with great enthusiasm by participants. In reference to receiving an activity pack one participant said, "This REALLY brightened my day, thank you. I have been struggling to spend time outside recently so tomorrow I will do one of the tasks in the garden (I hope)". Another said, "Boy, did my package put a smile on my face, thank you all so much it really meant a lot receiving this". Another grateful participant said, "Just want to say a big thank you to Linda Tough for sending me the Branching Out activity pack. It is filled with lots of fun facts and puzzles and a few goodies to be able to do some arts and crafts etc. Everything in the pack is great and it means so much to me to be able to receive one. One of my favourite things in the pack is the inspiration card. The kind words on this has helped me through some very tough days especially with being on my own. Thank you Community Learning for your amazing support through this difficult period of the unknown. Knowing that you are all there if anyone requires help means more than you will ever know.

The funders have been really supportive and are backing ACT and the Branching Out team to develop and expand this service during Covid-19 to try and combat loneliness and isolation in communities. The aim is to target more people who are isolating alone and who are at greater risk of mental health issues as a result.

The National Lottery said, "It sounds like you are doing lots of positive things for participants and have adapted really well to the current situation. Great to hear about the partnership working as well", and the ALLIANCE said, "You have the full support of the ALLIANCE to adapt your service delivery".

Speaking at the start of Mental Health Awareness Week (18th - 24th May), Elaine Jamieson of Scottish Forestry said, "This is really good news, especially for people who a suffering with mental health issues during this challenging time. Branching Out is a lifeline for many people so it is great to hear that ACT and other mental health groups are joining together to keep activities going for participants".

For more information on our Branching Out project in general see our project webpage, and for more information on Mental Health Awareness week see the Mental Health Foundation webpage.