Blarbuie case study
Argyll and Bute Hospital, Lochgilphead, Argyll
Blarbuie Woodland has been transformed from a neglected inaccessible plantation into a welcoming thriving place of recreation and creative work. Lying adjacent to the new Argyll & Bute Hospital in Lochgilphead, it is now a valuable resource for mental health patients, hospital staff and visitors.
In 2003 a partnership comprising Reforesting Scotland, the NHS, Argyll Green Woodworkers Association, the Scottish Association for Mental Health, and Lochgilphead Community Council was formed to restore the neglected woods of the old Victorian 'asylum'. Funds were raised (from Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Mental Health Department, FC Scotland and Leader) and work began in 2004, involving many users of mental health services, disabled people, young people, contractors and volunteers.
The site was opened as a public park in 2007, with all-abilities and all-weather paths, facilities and interpretation for quiet recreation and busy socialising, as well as more energetic woodland management activities. There are opportunities to learn new skills, including nursery work, forestry, timber processing, woodworking and construction, and the wood also hosts art and music projects. Good use of ‘borrowed landscape’, with routes laid out to take advantage of spectacular views out across Loch Gilp, make the site an enjoyable and invigorating place to visit. The carved wooden arch right by the hospital car park lets everyone know this is a special place where they are welcome.
The project has developed an innovative and creative approach to woodland management which has been successful both in restoring a neglected plantation and at the same time creating a valuable asset for the community, with significant health benefits for users. The site is used flexibly and there is a wide range of opportunities for very different types of involvement.
What are the health benefits?
Clinicians feel that muchof the benefit for patients lies in a feeling of achievement in actually doing some work in the woods, and seeing the fruits of their work - the benefit of exercise; of fresh air; and of working with others on a project.
One particular theme on the site is the promotion of 'mindfulness' in patients – appreciating the present moment without anxiety about the past or future. For many patients in this hospital with mental health problems cultivating mindfulness is an essential skill to learn.
“I think what’s nice about the woods is the peacefulness of walking and the big trees and the nature, and being in a place where you can practice mindfulness, awareness.”
“People have a lot of concerns and anxieties…maybe you could be in a quiet room in a quiet ward, but if you’ve got a busy head it’s hard to relax and be grounded, so I think it does help to go out into a woodland area, and focus on like, other things like the nature, like the trees…and just to help empty the head, empty…”
“Taking healing out of doors can be challenging. Staff are not used to taking their patients outside, but once the paths were there the visitor numbers rose to several hundred per week.
Perceptions of risk can stifle this sort of project, with 'Health & Safety' being used as a reason for not doing things. Here we have taken a balanced approach using the Forestry Commission's Risk / Benefit Analysis”.
- The support of senior clinicians from the hospital was essential in starting the project and giving it credibility;
- The serendipitous partnership of health professionals, foresters and crafts workers and local government was particularly helpful;
- As a multi-faceted project, it was able to attract funds from donors in health, rural development, forestry and conservation.