Arts, crafts and walks

Lia and Prem sewing

How Lia and Prem are using nature to feel well

The Garden Classroom is a local charity offering a wide range of experiences to help children and adults connect with nature – from drop-in activities to help children under five discover Islington’s wildlife, to outdoor events designed to bring the community together. Recently, the charity received funding from Islington Council as part of its work to make Islington cleaner, greener and healthier. The funding supported the delivery of a series of nature-based art and craft workshops in Caledonian Park to support local people’s mental health.

We spoke to Lia and Prem, who participated in the workshops, about why they wanted to take part, how they have found the experience and how they’re making the most of local parks and green spaces to boost their wellbeing.

Mental health is very important to me. I went through difficult times in the past, when I was working in adult social care, looking after people with dementia. My husband also had dementia and I looked after him as well. Between going to work and looking after my husband, I was really struggling. It wasn’t easy, but I’m so proud of what I’ve achieved in life.

I have been a mental health champion for many years now. I volunteer with Manor Gardens, an Islington-based health and wellbeing charity. Someone suggested I give it a try and I really liked it.

I like to go out and be around people. I’m 75 now – although I don’t feel 75! – and it’s not good being at home all the time. So, when I found out about the nature-based art and craft workshops at Caledonian Park, I jumped at the opportunity. The people are so friendly and welcoming. We do a lot of different things, which I like. I enjoy doing creative things and take them home with me to show other people what I’ve been doing.

These workshops have done a lot of good for me. I usually support others, so taking part in the art and craft workshops in Caledonian Park has been really good for my own mental health. Coming here and talking to people makes me feel wonderful and I’ve made new friends. I look forward to coming every week.

I also go to Finsbury Park a lot, even in winter. In the summer, I get my newspaper and buy my lunch, and then I sit down in the park and relax. When I was working, I worked very, very hard. Now I sit there, have my sandwich and a cup of tea, and let the world go by. I enjoy taking it easy. I’m a friendly and talkative person, and I speak four languages, so I can speak to people in their own language. I talk to a lot of people while I’m in the park and I look at the children running and playing. It’s very good for my mental wellbeing. When I’m at home I like music, dancing, and cooking. I cook with my radio on and get lost in my own world. I do yoga, meditation and zumba as well. When I do that, I feel great.

I am self-employed as a resilience and wellbeing trainer and coach, having developed wellbeing tools and programmes, and spend a lot of time on my own. I’m also a carer for my mother, and because of that I haven’t been on holiday for 15 years. Having the opportunity to meet other people becomes really important the older you get. As people over the age of 55, we are outside of the main community. You can feel isolated and you lose the rhythm of life, especially if you don’t have a partner or children.

That’s why we need opportunities to connect with others, and even more so during Covid. Being able to talk to other people with similar experiences helps to ground you. If you don’t have that, you may think, ‘what’s the point of being alive?’ At the most basic, it’s about community.

That’s why I have really loved the workshops at Cally Park – they have offered a chance to play. At my age, I don’t often get a chance to do this. Covid has been so isolating and changed so much, so I really appreciated the opportunity to come out and meet with a much bigger group in a different way.

It’s been fun learning new skills. We’ve learnt weaving and printing, and also done a collage exercise where you had to write down things you were struggling with. Then you got to cover them up with your collage. It was quite therapeutic.

Over the last few years, it’s been difficult to control anything. The art and craft sessions, on the other hand, have offered something you could control for a couple of hours, while even getting a pleasing end result. They’ve offered a space and time to step out of the treadmill of stress, anxiety and all of the other things that have been going on, and just feel free and playful.

I’ve also really enjoyed being here in the park over the last few months and seeing it in its different moods – that has been fascinating, too.

I don’t have a private garden and I need my green space. I use parks all throughout the year. In the winter, I go out to have picnics by myself. I’ll take a flask of something hot and a sandwich and I just walk around the park and have something to eat.

Parks are also good for exercise. You’ve got the space to walk at your own pace, and there are lots of activities that you can get involved in.

If I don’t feel well, I also go to the park. It’s great just being able to smell the grass, see the trees, and have some space to spread out and feel that sense of openness – you don’t get that in a small flat. I even have a favourite tree. I go there when I am having a bad day. I feel good being there.

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