Richmond initiative aims to reduce loneliness with conservation work

An initiative in Richmond is using conservation work to connect people with nature and reduce loneliness.

Grow Wild in Richmond Parks is held at Ham Lands nature reserve every Monday at 1pm, with sessions lasting two hours.

Set up this month by Let’s Go Outside and Learn CIC, it aims to break down the barriers stopping people from socialising and going outdoors.

Director of Let’s Go Outside and Learn Frances Bennett explained: “We know there are benefits to be had and are passionate about giving people the opportunity to do this.

“It can be intimidating starting something new but we try to make it as easy as possible for people to come and join in.”

The first session on 11 October introduced participants to Ham Lands.

More recent gatherings have educated partakers about different types of trees and lichen.

Sandra Woods, who attended this week’s session, said: “I’ll definitely be coming back.

“My favourite part was chatting to people because it’s a way of getting out and finding out what’s going on locally.”

She added: “It’s a great way to spend a couple of hours.

“It’s just very healthy, not sitting around and watching daytime television.”

Although funding from Richmond Parish Lands Charity will last until mid-2022, further support is dependent on the initiative’s success.

Bennett, who wants to apply the scheme’s model to other areas, said: “Getting funding is always the challenge with these things.”

Participants will learn practical skills such as copessing trees and clearing shrubs.

It is hoped they will become self-sufficient so work on Ham Lands can continue if the project stops receiving funding. 

Until then, they will be led by conservationist Gaby Docker who has a master’s degree in her discipline.

Docker, of Whitton, said: “It was pure luck that this job came around at the time it did.

“I love that I can impart my love of nature and conservation onto others and help them to do it as well.

“It’s rewarding because quite a few of the people who come are isolated and lonely.”

Participants can do nature surveying in addition to practical work, with both these tasks helping to broaden Ham Lands’ biodiversity.

Docker explained: “It’s about seeing who’s happy doing what and we’ll be there to support them and check they are doing it correctly.”

Ham Lands was infilled with bomb damage from different parts of London after World War II, and soil variations increased the reserve’s fertility.

Bennett said: “We’re working in an amazing space.

“You get all sorts of species that you don’t get elsewhere in London because of its history.”

Let’s Go Outside and Learn was established by Bennett in 2015 and runs nature connectedness projects across Richmond and Hounslow.

To learn more about Grow Wild in Richmond Parks and the other initiatives Let’s Go Outside and Learn organise, visit their website.

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