Guest blog: Exercising and creativity are just 'human-nature' - by Nick Dutton

This guest blog is written by Nick Dutton, a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist.  It's about a subject close to my heart, the value of exercise and the outdoors in well-being - not just in being healthier physically, but in overall well-being, physical and mental.  The article documents the creation of a new social enterprise, Human-Nature Escapes CIC, with which Cox Bank Publishing collaborates closely in areas of common interest. I'm proud to be the Be Active advocate for Human Nature Escapes.


Recovery journey inspires new social enterprise promoting well-being

It is estimated that, in any one year, one in four of us will be suffering from some kind of mental health problem, from mild conditions which will settle given time to severe problems which require prolonged intervention and treatment.  Help with such problems may be as simple as a listening ear from a friend or at the other end of the scale may require medication and psychotherapy.  The ‘one in four’ figure tells that no one is immune from the risk of mental illness; indeed those of us who believe that we are somehow invulnerable to such things are often riding for the greatest fall of all.

All this means that it is wise for all of us to consider looking after our mental health to be a priority.  Sometimes, though, the stresses of life can be so great that illness can strike no matter how well prepared we think we are.  At such times the emphasis is on the process of recovery and ultimately of working out effective ways to stay as well as possible in future.
In my career as a mental health professional I have come across many inspiring stories of recovery, and occasionally of people being motivated by their own experiences to want to help others in similar situations.  One such story is that of Bradwell resident Jake (Jeremy) Cliffe, who suffered with a stress-related illness.

Inspired by Nature

Jake’s recovery was aided enormously by having a loving family to support him, particularly his wife Joanne.  Over time they realised that the most effective therapy for Jake was a combination of exercise and appreciating the natural world around him.  The purchase of Dalmatian pup Lola was a crucial moment in Jake’s recovery as this got him out of the house and gaining exercise.  Jake also immersed himself in local nature sites, regularly visiting green spaces like Trentham Gardens and Westport Lake, walking and cycling and recording everything as he went, through his new hobby of photography.

Jake has now captured his journey to recovery in an electronic picture book, Everything, Without Everything Within, mainly consisting of the photos he has taken of the natural world (often from unique angles and alternative perspectives), but also with thoughtful text explanations of his experience of recovery and (with permission from songwriter Tony Clarkin) lyrics from Jake’s favourite rock band Magnum, whose music also helped inspire his recovery.

In addition to the ebook (available to view for free on the website ), on the back of the strength of his own recovery journey, Jake has now decided to change his whole career direction.  He’s founded a new community interest company called Human-Nature Escapes to promote well-being within the local community. 
He’s trained and now qualified as a Nordic walking instructor, finishing 3rd in his first ever 5k challenge event held at Wollaton Park in Nottingham earlier this summer, and also gained qualifications to lead mountain bike rides.  It’s proof that sometimes people can and do bounce back from health adversity and can make good (and even full) recoveries.

Green your Exercise & Exercise your Creativity

With the social enterprise the intention is to engage people in health promoting physical activities (such as community gardening, nature conservation, Nordic walking, and greenway cycling) in high quality natural environments, with all the activities being graded to suit the needs of the individual.  The appreciation and participation in nature and landscape related art is another major feature of the project.  Jake has now linked in with a number of local artists, conservation specialists, business partners, therapists and counsellors to shape the project.  
“What we aim to do” says Jake, “is to take people closer to nature, and to bring nature closer to home.  We’ll encourage them to look after mind and body through green exercise, helping them get the most out of the wonderful parks and green spaces available to them.

We’ll also help them to tap into their own individual creative talents, with nature inspired art activities like therapeutic photography, pottery making and decorating using nature printing techniques, wildlife habitat making and garden art /design.  Overall we’ll be giving people the opportunity to demonstrate care not only for themselves and other people, but also the environment and planet as a whole.  

We’re specifically aiming to support people in recovery to maintain resilience from common emotional wellbeing conditions like workplace stress, depression and anxiety.  We won’t discriminate though – our activities will be equally open to the wider healthy population for their general health and wellbeing too.  We aim to make both recovery and maintaining good health a ‘pleisure’ – a nurturing leisure experience for everyone to enjoy.”

Human-Nature’s unique artists’ collaboration ‘thescapeartists’, (some of whom themselves have ‘lived experience’ of health recovery using art, green exercise and nature), will be launching activities, workshops and programmes from some of the nicest venues and most therapeutic local landscapes - places like Keele and Trentham Gardens.  All activities will be based around their unique spin on the evidence based ‘ways to wellbeing’; Connect (People), Be Active (Body), Take Notice (Place), Keep Learning (Mind), Give (Spirit), to which they’ve uniquely added two extra ways - Care (Planet) and Be Creative (Self).

Human-Nature Escapes CIC is a ‘profit for purpose’ social enterprise, and was formally launched earlier this month (August) at a special event at Keele University Sustainability Hub.
For further information see their new website:  or their social media.