Outdoor volunteering for better mental health
Take your daily exercise down Cawston Greenway to see this story for yourself
Self-employed gardener Paul Hayden-Hart runs Friends of Cawston Greenway, a group turning part of the disused railway into a nature and butterfly reserve.
He said: “Green volunteering is so, so important for your mental well-being. Even after 11 years, I walk away from a work day absolutely buzzing with a big smile across my face for the rest of the day. It just makes you feel so good.”
Since lockdown, many people have been using the Cawston Greenway for exercise and Paul sees this as one of the group’s greatest successes.
At the moment there aren’t any group volunteering opportunities, but Paul is happy for people to help litter pick or do minor pruning as they take their daily exercise.
When Covid-19 restrictions are lifted and the summer arrives again, there should be wildflower and insect monitoring days, as well as work days for volunteers.
Last year the group planted 4,000 snowdrops, using money raised by local residents.
Paul said: “There really is something for everyone. On work days we always have coffee and a cookie. We’re always joking and chatting so it is so good for mental well-being.”
In the immediate future, Paul hopes to set up workdays for young autistic adults.
“It is back to that ethos of it being there for everyone. When we are allowed free movement this is what we will be pushing ahead with,” he said.
Feedback has been very positive, Paul added.
“People are always stopping to chat when we are working on the path. I think the fact that we try to cater for as many different groups as possible helps.”
Picnicking families, bike riders, couples on dates and groups like the Cawston Runners have all used the trail in recent years, as well as people who walk the route every day just to get out of the house.
Paul now lives in Dunchurch, and last autumn linked Dunchurch Bridleway with the Cawston Nature Trail, by negotiating access around the edge of a farmer’s field.
Paul added: “The biggest success for me personally is creating the connection to Dunchurch Bridleway and actually having a path that goes somewhere (a round walk if you like), rather than just there and back.”
Funding for the Cawston group’s activities comes from grants from sponsors, as well as crowd-funding and donations.