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Future of Healthcare in Wales Showcased at UK’s First Outdoor Healthcare Facility

L-R: Rachel Gidman, Executive Director of People and Culture for Cardiff and Vale UHB; Simone Joslyn, Head of Arts and Cardiff & Vale Health Charity; Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Wellbeing, Lynne Neagle MS; and Co-founder and CEO of Down to Earth, Mark McKenna.

The future of healthcare in Wales was experienced yesterday (June 15, 2023) at a unique experiential conference held at the UK’s first hospital outdoor healthcare facility at University Hospital Llandough.

The ‘People, Nature and Impact’ experiential conference and celebration was held by sustainability experts, Down to Earth, who partnered on the innovative ‘Our Health Meadow’ outdoor healthcare project with Cardiff & Vale Health Charity on behalf of Cardiff and Vale University Health Board.

The project, which is the first of its kind at a hospital site in the UK, is a seven-acre meadow with a seven-acre woodland sitting within a clinical setting at University Hospital Llandough. It offers a unique opportunity to deliver outdoor-based health care and rehabilitation as well as providing space for nature to thrive after Down to Earth’s published research has shown that engaging with outdoor nature-based programmes can lead to significant reductions in anxiety and depression.

Attendees at the conference, including Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Wellbeing, Lynne Neagle MS, heard from NHS staff, patients and the local community, all of whom have been involved in the design and build of ‘Our Health Meadow’ over the last two and a half years, on the impact of the project, as well as the on-going clinical research into the benefits of outdoor healthcare. They also got to experience first-hand the benefits of outdoor healthcare through taking part in several practical outdoor workshops on site.

Co-founder and CEO of Down to Earth, Mark McKenna MBE, said: “This conference has celebrated almost three years of remarkable work with the patients and staff of Cardiff and Vale University Health Board and their Health Charity. What we have achieved together at ‘Our Health Meadow’ demonstrates a new model of health care delivery which improves the patient experience, promotes wellbeing in NHS staff and positively impacts on nature at the same time – health care which is Fit for the Future.”

Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Wellbeing, Lynne Neagle MS, said: ““It’s been fantastic to hear from the patients, volunteers and staff today who have been involved in this amazing initiative. The wellbeing benefits of having something like this is absolutely immense.

“It’s brilliant to see Down to Earth doing this. It very much fits with the work we’re doing in Welsh Government around social prescribing and climate emergency, and I’m sure there’s learnings for other parts of Wales from this kind of innovative and co-produced project.”

The health benefits of environmental factors and the impact of nature and wildlife upon physical and mental wellbeing has long been recognised and according to Simone Joslyn, Head of Cardiff & Vale Health Charity and the Arts for Health and Wellbeing Team, ‘Our Health Meadow’ will enhance this vision. She said: “Our Health Meadow is a project we’re all very excited about. What has been achieved over the last two and a half years has been phenomenal, and we’re very proud to showcase all the work and effort that has brought us to this point. We hope to continue to provide a space that’s nurturing for the wildlife and our patients, staff and local community, and will always keep health and wellbeing at the forefront of this project.”

A frontline worker at Cardiff and Vale University Health Board said: “Knowing I had this one day a week at ‘Our Health Meadow’ has helped with my motivation to work. It has been such a very hard time for us in the NHS, so many stressful events, one after the other. Coming here each week really helped alleviate the feeling of being burnt out and worn down. It helped my mental health massively.”

Down to Earth is a Welsh multi-award-winning social enterprise with a 17-year track record in the design and development of outdoor-based healthcare facilities with the patients and the wider community at the very centre of building them. Using only natural materials and sustainable construction techniques, this unique approach has 10 years of clinical research underpinning it and has been proven to improve mental health.

Down to Earth delivered ‘Our Health Meadow’ via its ‘Fit for the Future’ project which is based on designing and developing a new approach to healthcare delivery through nature-based solutions. This project has received funding through the Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.