As I stated earlier, the concept of ‘green social prescribing’ which I have become fascinated by was explored in a fantastic panel discussion at the ‘Outdoor Skills Theatre’ sponsored by Montane. This was on the topic of ‘The positive impact of the outdoors on mental wellbeing‘, so I knew it would probably mention the concept of ‘social prescribing’, but mostly focus on the experience of the panelists. The panel featured the founder of Explorers Connect (Belinda Kirk). Because I simply sat and listened, rather than recording or making notes, I cannot report on exactly was discussed, but all the presenters had a shared experience of overcoming some great difficulties to achieve something remarkable and even break records.
This discussion was lead initially by Polly Shute, the main host for this stage, although Belinda did a lot of the facilitating throughout. Despite already understanding the benefits of prescribing the outdoors for positive wellbeing and recovery, I did not expect the stories and experiences of the esteemed panel. Firstly, there was an account from Jo Moseley of taking stand up paddle boarding from coast to coast and writing a popular book about this, in addition to creating short iPhone films which share the health and happiness the outdoors can bring. There was a a former army commando, Dan Stanley, who set up ‘Men & Mountains‘ and ‘Better Men‘, rethinking masculinity after a self-described ‘midlife crisis’. Furthermore, there was an ‘adaptive adventurer’, Kate Appleby, who according to her website, is “a domestic and sexual abuse survivor, who has gone on to share her story; of how her experiences have shaped her story, and how the outdoors has saved her life. From an attempt on her life as a young adult, to a diagnosis of Lupus and the day to day impact of living in chronic pain.” So truly about overcoming barriers and health challenges. For example, she once spent one weekend climbing the height of Everest in Kendal. Finally, there was the aforementioned Alex Staniforth from Mind over Mountains. He not only spoke about the tragic experience at Everest base camp, but the purpose of his charity and how much it has fundraised. He had his book, ‘Icefall’ about his epic Everest experience, on display (see photo below).
Straight after this session, I bought Belinda’s book, ‘Adventure Revolution‘ about the life-changing power of choosing challenge, in a book signing at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) stand, which she gave a shout out to at the end. As well as this, she was promoting the Adventure Mind conference, which first took place in 2019 and again in 2022 (which included Bryan Jones) to explore and further promote how adventurous activity has a positive role to play on our wellbeing. The 2023 event, scheduled for November, is already available to get tickets for.
I was happily surprised to find my employer, UCLAN present at this event. In fact, it was noticeably the only higher education institute with a stand at this national event! I spoke with the Sports and Health Sciences team, who were busy promoting the innovative MA course on Outdoor Practice (outdoor adventure leadership), as well as Social Prescribing, already mentioned. I remained delighted that this university is actively involved in promoting this and I can’t wait for the next event in June, which I hopefully will, very likely, be writing an official review of. This time there will be camping overnight! Cleary this was a networking opportunity for the SP unit to gather some bookings – but it remains to be seen who accepts an invitation to come to Preston.
Also on day one, I caught parts of talks from Georgie Duckworth about adventuring with family, as well as catching some of the amazing ‘Polar’ Preet Chandi’s recounting of an incredible solo trek to the South Pole across 700 miles in 40 days. The first woman of colour to do this. Although I spent much of the day visiting stands and talking with numerous suppliers of everything outdoors, so was not rushing from stage to stage.
The last speaker I caught in full was the first of two Strictly Come Dancing 2022 contestants, the former Blue Peter presenter, Helen Skelton. She was interviewed by Lucy Mills, wearing an almost identical jump suit – apart from the colour. Hoarse from cheering on another former Blue Peter presenter and current Morning Live colleague, Gethin Jones, for Red Nose Day the day before, she was asked about her many adventures and her spirit for pushing boundaries. One of the most incredible things she has done was kayaking the entire length of the River Amazon for Sport Relief in 2010. 2,010 miles (3,230 km) on a solo journey from Nauta in Peru to Almeirim, Brazil. She achieved two entries in the Guinness World Records: the longest solo journey by kayak, and the longest distance in a kayak in 24 hours by a woman. Two years later, Skelton raised more money for Sport Relief by becoming the first person to reach the South Pole, a common destination for many speakers at this event, using a bicycle! Why? Because footage of her simply walking there would not have given much footage. Skelton covered 329 miles (529 km) by kite ski – luxurious by comparison. She is also the first person to claim a world record for the fastest 100 km by kite ski, in seven hours 28 minutes, which was set during the trip. Blue Peter also made five six-episode specials for this event and, according to her, her tenacity to make things more difficult for herself caused issues for the producers.
It was an enjoyable first day. However, having woken up at 2.30am and got down to the National Exhibition Centre from Preston by coach, then an early bus out of town from Digbeth Coach Station, I felt a little tired and overwhelmed. The sights and sounds of the hall required some steady navigation and some conversations were strained due to the general noise. However, I managed to board a solitary train that was running (on a strike day) to get across the city, including a walk from Stechford station to my overnight accommodation.
Having stayed at a the Tropical Garden Oasis Room in Ward End overnight, I managed to get 9 hours of sleep. So, I felt refreshed the following morning and was able to enjoy the second day even more, untroubled by nagging tiredness. After a late train from Stechford, I arrived with the second day underway, but with time to find a good spot for the hosts to get things going once more. Lucy Mills was noticeably rocking a blue jump suit, which looked remarkably similar to Helen Skelton’s from the day before. She joked that it was the same one – but I believe it actually was – judge for yourself in this short clip. Lucy and Danny’s first job after warming the crowd was to introduce the second Strictly Come Dancing 2022 contestant of the weekend – the actual winner. Here he is with dance partner, Jowita Przystał dancing to Jerusalema on the show last year. This is the experienced wildlife cameraman Hamza Yassin, who provided a very entertaining and insightful look into his career to date. Born in Sudan, he emigrated to the UK aged 8, disclosing a significant dyslexia diagnosis at school. He studied Zoology with Conservation, then completed a MSc. in Biological Imaging and Photography. He has presented as ‘Ranger Hamza’ for CBBC, Channel 4’s My Life in the Wild and BBC’s Animal Park. He has a real passion for birds and is a skilled ornithologist. More recently he was on location to film the first ever complete sequence of hunting white-tailed eagles, formerly extinct in the British Isles, for BBC One’s new, David Attenborough fronted series, Wild Isles – it’s shown in episode one. He is also self-deprecating and funny with it.
Up next was TV presenter, Julia Bradbury. She has been involved in numerous programmes, including presenting Watchdog, Countryfile and this series of outdoor guides with Julia produced by Skyworks and a series of best walks with a view. More recently she gained attention for the personal documentary, Julia Bradbury: Breast Cancer and Me. By way of connecting two earlier references – she was one of the presenters in 2000 on Castaway that starred Ben Fogle, but she also has another connection with him – ‘The Real Richness’ report from 10 years ago – essentially ‘social prescribing’ as it looked into the physical and mental health benefits of camping and being outside. A new joint report by Liverpool John Moores Uni and Sheffield Hallam Uni brings things up to date. In addition she shared footage of climbing Mam Tor in the Peak District, which her parents, which as I said earlier I went up one evening in July 2021. She has a new book coming out in September about walking for positive mental health and this article in the Times about this can be read, via her website, here. Last year, I used walking as therapy, too, and will continue to do my rambles, along with running. Why post about doing this? It becomes a motivation for yourself. It seems obvious, but the more energy used in outdoor pursuits, the more energy we create for ourselves. The mental and physical are so entwined.
In the afternoon, I caught part of wheelchair bound Darren Edwards‘ personal story of overcoming adversity, after a near-fatal climbing accident in 2016, building mental toughness was hugely motivating and humbling. He shared his journey since losing his father, rowing across the English Channel in his memory, and then taking on the World Marathon Challenge – an incredible story of completing 7 marathons in 7 days in 7 continents – starting in Antarctica – earlier this year. He is the first physically disabled person to do so. Just the logistics was enough of a challenge, without the potholes of Madrid. I wish I had been there for the whole talk, but being a conference I was spreading myself a little thin around the hall.
Darren was followed on the Inspiration stage by Laura Lou Crane, a Devon surfer who rose to minor fame on ITV’s Love Island, despite developing an eating disorder. Laura has modelled for international brands and is dedicated to promoting a healthy body image and flying the flag for talented, female surfers and sportswomen across the globe.
Many of the talks got me close to tears, but only one actually moved me enough to shed one or two. That talk was from Claire Lomas MBE. A freak riding accident left her paralysed from the waist down. She completed the London Marathon in 2012 – taking 17 days to complete the course in a robotic suit and raising £210k for Spinal Research in the process. She completed the Great North Run in 2016, and a year later became the first paralysed female with a motorcycle racing licence. She also told a funny story about how she ‘bought’ her husband for £20 on the Internet – the cost of joining a dating site. He was in the audience, along with their two children and gets embarrassed by this story. As she spoke, not a beat was missed – clearly talking about this has become so matter of fact, but watching a video of her getting ready with her lifeless limbs as she spoke about her determination was very moving indeed.
Finally, the King of ‘Bushcraft’ (and pre-Bear Grylls) ‘survivalist’, Ray Mears. The founder of Woodlore (1983) and presenter of numerous TV shows over the past thirty years. He was referred to as an ‘expert’ but he dismissed this, saying that he is still learning and that there is still much to discover out there. He made a passing reference to the importance of these type of events, post-Covid (lockdowns). It was during the years 2020 and 2021 that a greater appreciation for exploring the outdoors and to get exercise has arguably been increased by those requirements to ‘stay home’. There was definitely a large frisson of excitement and a new sense of adventure from those attending, especially from those who otherwise had not been keen on what the great outdoors has to offer. In that respect the Inspiration stage was well named, as it provided a showcase for seasoned adventurers to overcome their own relative difficulties and achieve great things. There was a brief chat about witchetty grubs, leading to an awkward question about ‘I’m a Celebrity’. Mears appeared to dismiss the light entertainment show, proffering that Ant & Dec should go on jungle survival jaunt with him for real. Now that would be good TV! I like what Ray had to say about people being so risk averse these days. In some ways, the pandemic heightened some of that fear, a misleading sense of what was truly risky. My own views on the whole pandemic and especially ‘lockdown’ have changed recently, but I won’t go into why that is on this blog post.
Official Highlights Video:
In conclusion, this was definitely a worthwhile and rewarding trip for getting further inspired. If these people can overcome adversity (in many cases) and do all of these amazing things, it is certainly well within my ‘achievement zone’ to do a tiny fraction of what they have done – particularly the ‘microadventures’ idea espoused by Alastair Humphreys and the kind of adventuring that Belinda Kirk has written and presented about. Whilst I am not yet prepared to spend a load of money or fundraise again on a challenging trip to the jungle or south pole, my other main take-aways were a renewed sense of adventure, doing something different – every day (or evening) if possible. That has already begun – by taking up ballroom dancing this past week. Inspired by the two strictly contestants at the Expo, my first lesson in Preston on Wednesday involved learning some Rhumba moves to Will Young’s version of ‘Light My Fire’. It might take a while for me to get any good, because I’ve still got ‘two left feet’. So the ‘Glitter Ball’ trophy is definitely a long, long way off for me! However, let’s not just settle for ordinary or comfortable. Be curious, take risks. Do something that scares you a bit – or a lot. That old adage of ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ also seems to apply here. I am certainly going to look at options other than simply going to the pub after work, on the way home, instead I’ll borrow a tent and go hiking overnight instead!
Note 1*The concept, which I first came across at the View from the Summit event is also an inception of an idea for a possible PhD study.
Note 2*I dislike misrepresenting people – it causes me anxiety when I do it. Where possible, I have linked the speakers to their personal website. But if I have misrepresented anyone here or written something which is factually incorrect, please feel free to contact me and I will correct any errors with immediate effect.
Rothe, D., and Heiss, R. (2022) Link workers, activities and target groups in social prescribing: a literature review in Journal of Integrated Care: Vol 20 Issue 5. Open Access edition available at: Journal of Integrated Care: Vol. 30 Iss. 5 | Emerald Insight