Rewarded for Branching Out

Branching Out helps people by running activities in woodlands
Branching Out helps people by running activities in woodlands

A ground-breaking outdoors initiative to help people with mental health problems has won a national award from NHS Health Scotland.

Branching Out, the innovative outdoor activity programme for adults who use the region’s mental health services, has received the Physical Activity and Health Alliance (PAHA) award in recognition of its commitment to encouraging more people to be more active.

The Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) initiative is designed to improve the health and well-being of people with long-term mental health issues. And the programme locally is delivered by FCS and NHS Borders, with support from Borders Forest Trust.

FCS’s Hugh McNish said: “People with mental health problems are less likely to engage in physical activity for a number of reasons, including social isolation, low self-esteem, physical health conditions and medication side effects.

“Branching Out aims to act as a stepping stone to encourage individuals to move on to more inclusive activities within the community, whilst also acting as s crucial part of their treatment for their mental health issues.

“Winning this PAHA Award is testament to all the hard work of the partners involved and the clients it benefits.”

The project offers about three hours of activities – including health walks, conservation projects, bushcraft activities and tai chi – per week in a woodland setting, over 12 weeks.

PAHA coordinator Sharon Allison said: “Branching Out has been running in Scotland since 2007 and continues to flourish, developing new ways to support NHS boards to enable their patients to become more active. The partnership working approach and knowledge of the outdoors make the Branching Out opportunity a fantastic first step into activity for often vulnerable mental health users. Attendance at the Branching Out programme has been unusually high for a mental health group. Part of the appeal seems to be that the physical activity is incorporated within activities rather than being a purpose in itself.”

The award was presented at the 7th National PAHA Conference in Edinburgh, attended by Minister for Commonwealth Games and Sport Shona Robison, last month.