Power of open air can help the lonely

Chris Powell and Andrew Wilson at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Picture Scott Merrylees
Chris Powell and Andrew Wilson at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Picture Scott Merrylees
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The power of the open air and the art of good conversation is being used to provide fresh insight to those who may be struggling with their mental health or wellbeing at Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Leeds therapist Chris Powell and Bradford GP Andrew Wilson have been leading Room to Breathe walks across the Yorkshire Dales for the last 15 years, but in 2018 will bring their sessions to the beautiful landscape of the West Bretton sculpture park for the first time as part of its series of activities and events that use art and the outdoors to help promote positive mental health, wellbeing, and even tackle loneliness.

Rachel Massey. Picture Scott Merrylees

Rachel Massey. Picture Scott Merrylees

The walks see a small group of people spend the day exploring the countryside at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, walking, thinking, talking and gaining insight into the things that are on their minds.

The walks will be repeated four times across the year - once in each changing season - which will further add perspective for those taking part, Mr Powell, who was formerly head of psychological therapies at The Retreat in York and founded the popular Cafe Psychologique in Leeds, said.

“Change happens through conversation,” Mr Powell said. “A lot of mental health difficulties come down to an inability to express what is being felt or being experienced.

“When you’re walking, you have a very different type of conversation.

“As the group meets through the year, the changing season has an impact on what you talk about. Seeing physical changes in the surroundings, and revisiting the area prompts you to look back on what has changed in your own life since the last time you spoke, and you gain perspective.

“Some people come along wanting to talk about specific things, like stress at work, or issues in a relationship, others just want the chance to be in the open air and enjoy the landscape. What we find as the day goes on is that people find themselves talking about things they didn’t think they would.”

The walks started in Nidderdale and Wharfedale, and began when Dr Wilson, a specialist in mental health and a keen fell runner, and Mr Powell, who were friends, realised the benefits of talking in the open air.

Dr Wilson said: “I would go running with relative strangers and find that the quality of conversation with people over just an hour or two was something I would never experience in a pub or at a dinner party. There is something about the physicality of exercise and being together for a certain amount of time that leads to real quality conversation.

“But it also the chance to be silent - you can walk for ten minutes and not say a word.”

Room to Breathe is one of a whole programme of activities at the sculpture park led by arts and wellbeing coordinator Rachel Massey.

They include mindfulness sessions, which teach people how to engage with artwork in a mindful way; yoga classes; nightfall meditation; and the popular Art and Social for Over 55s group, which is aimed at providing a varied and welcoming programme of activities when they are at the age when loneliness can affect them the most - the period of great change that is the late 50s and 60s.

Ms Massey, who is also an artist whose work is focused on mental health and wellbeing, said: “When I first started this role, I would walk around and just try to get a feel for why people would come here, and what was so evident was that just by being here, in the open air, experiencing the art work, people would feel better - and the wellbeing programme has built on that.“

The first Room to Breathe walk takes place on January 13. Booking is essential. For information on this and YSP’s wider wellbeing programme, visit www.ysp.org.uk.

The Yorkshire Post has been campaigning to highlight the devastating health effects of loneliness, which can be as damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, since 2014.

We launched the Loneliness: The Hidden Epidemic campaign after revealing the heartbreaking scale of social isolation in the region, which takes it toll on 91,300 older people.

We want loneliness to be universally recognised as a health priority in our communities. According to research, living with loneliness can also contribute to dementia and high blood pressure.

Throughout the campaign, in partnership with the Campaign to End Loneliness, the Royal Voluntary Service and the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, we have also encouraged our readers to do their bit by volunteering for support services.

For full details, visit yorkshirepost.co.uk/loneliness