Wardipedia – 20. The really great outdoors

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Feeling good inside, outside


Being outside is good for the soul, the skin, lungs and other bits and pieces of our bodies. Whether it’s sedately sitting in a wheelchair listening to  music or having an impromptu game of frisbee, the outdoor areas of the ward provide some of patients’ most enjoyable experiences.

Outdoor exercise is accessible, fun, motivating, sociable and you get to see sky and nature and hear birds singing. As the Open Gym describes it:

If you hate the gym but want to get fit, try an outdoor workout. …We are passionate about the benefits of outdoor exercise. Slalom-racing through the trees is much more fun than slogging away on a sweaty old treadmill. So find your plimsolls, bring your friends and get down to the park!

Green gyms  have a mental health cousin – eco-therapy. Some hospitals even have eco-therapists to support patients gaining the maximum benefit from outdoor activities.

A large number of studies, all using sound methodology, have produced strong evidence of the positive effect of nature on recovery from stress and attention fatigue. Exposure to nature has proved to have a positive effect on mood, for example, as well as on concentration, self-discipline and physiological stress. The studies were conducted both in the laboratory and under field conditions. The beneficial effects occur even after brief exposure to a view of nature.

The brilliant organisation Sensory Trust has loads of imaginative,  fun, practical ideas for accessible outdoor activities.

Ward examples

  • Lots of cycling to local places and “if someone gets a puncture, it becomes a walking group for the return journey!”
  • There are a range of garden games including quoits, petanque and badminton.
  • Presently OT is developing links with local allotment groups to develop this activity.
  • Green therapies have been established and I part of the rehab and recovery programme.
  • Links have been made with BTCV and patients have accessed groups.
  • Staffs facilitate activities in garden area (cricket, rounders, badminton, swing ball).
  • Occupational Therapist runs weekly swimming groups.
  • Patients help with feeding and care of the cats. Including lots of cuddles and watching their antics.
  • Patients suffering from depression and anxiety are on a gentle exploration of local woodlands and parks. This helps them explore nature, overcome their anxieties, make new friends and reduce social isolation.
  • Bowling green! Lovely gardens, attached to wards and in the grounds. Reclaiming football pitch areas for sports’ use. Used to have a 6 hole golf course on the site! Are considering setting up putting green.
  • Gentle exercise is used to stimulate endorphin production.
  • Teaching patients to have fun with traditional exploration of nature, i.e the garden, at a local pond or a local woodland.
  • Practical and theoretical learning in organic gardening, allotment management and bee keeping.
  • Monitoring bird activity – photographic ‘Bird Diary’.
  • Complimenting the units are several secure outdoor exercise/recreation areas leading from the individual units, these enable all of the patients to easily and safely access fresh air.
  • Growing fruit and vegetables on our allotments.
  • Developing the community orchard, including ponds and wildlife areas.
  • Developing wildlife friendly gardens.
  • Nature, wildlife and bird watching walks.
  • Friendly off road bike rides.
  • There is a large rural garden area within the remit of the hospital, which is set aside for a variety of activities such as, practical skills training, which include small animal husbandry, gardening, individual projects, and woodwork; all within a risk assessed environment.
  • Using photography to capture environmental and wildlife images.
  • Creating environmental art and sculpture.
  • A woodpecker. (It would be very wrong for this to be included in any national standards. Star Wards’ stuff is, of course, all totally optional, adaptable, ignorable….)
  • Drumming workshops in woodland settings.
  • Weekly walking groups are arranged by the Occupational Therapy department whether this be in the local community or further afield.
  • In celebration of World Mental Health day a National Mental Health Cricket Tournament took place at a cricket club.

Patient Examples

  • On my first leave I didn’t leave the hospital grounds because it felt too scary so my family made a picnic and we sat in the garden and ate it.
  • I loved sitting in the garden and getting to know other people on the ward.
  • It was a hot sunny day and one of the staff bought a tub of ice cream. You can’t beat sitting in the sun eating a ice cream cone.
  • I made the most of the sunshine absorbing those lovely rays in the ward garden. Go on give it a go!
  • I went for a twenty minute walk everyday day at a nice steady pace and took time to get in touch with nature.
  • I became very interested in the birds that came to feed at the bird table in the ward garden. I decided to make sure there was enough food for them every day. It opened my eyes to how beautiful birds are.
  • When it was sunny we invariably were outside doing things. I even had my individual therapy outside in the summer!
  • We used to go on twilight walks when the weather was nice. It kept our minds busy in that time post dinner that many of us struggled with.
  • Access to fresh air is invaluable. It clears the mind and allows you to recharge.
  • Even those of us on high levels of supervision were able to participate in activities outside. They used to carefully calculate staffing levels accordingly. It was much appreciated!
  • We used to go for these amazing group walks and the staff were very careful to keep each individual’s needs in mind. They also used it as an opportunity to catch up with each of us.

Green gyms

Outdoor gyms are becoming very popular, whether it’s a group of neighbours meeting up with a trainer for a work-out in the park, or the enticing and fun gym machines sprouting up in parks around the country. Little would make us happier than visiting a hospital and discovering a scene similar to this (probably without the scarves).


Conference bike

The ConferenceBike is a revolutionary way to bring people together. The circular ConferenceBike is pedalled by 7 riders sitting in a circle. One person steers while the other 6 pedal (or not) as the bike moves effortlessly along. ConferenceBikes are being used to transport employees on the Google campus in California; and as ice-breakers on university campuses in New York. So cool.

Outdoor activities

A–  Apple collecting / picking, allotment
B – Badminton, Brisk walks, boules, baseball mitt and softish ball (for movie fans), beach, hut, big band days, barbeque days, bug palaces
C– Cycling, cricket, croquet, cottage garden
D– Drumming
E– Ecotherapy, environmental awareness, exercise
F– Football, fresh air, fête, fruit picking, fishing, flower growing and picking, forest walks, forest garden,  fruiting trees,
G– Gardening, golf with OT!!, gnome painting, green house
H– Hockey
I– Igloo building (in the snow)
J– Jam making (with picked fruit)
K– Kite-flying
L– Lemonade making / drinking on hot days
M– Miniature golf, model village
N– Nature walks
O– Outdoor therapy groups, outdoor gym, organic fruit and vegetables
P– Parachute games, pot plants, picnics, preserve nature, pond
Q– Quick jog around hospital grounds
R– Rounders
S– Swimming outdoors, swingball, spacehoppers, sponsored walks, secret garden, seaside, sand, sport days, shaded borders
T– Table tennis
V– Visits to botanic gardens and parks
W– Water colour painting, walking groups, walks in woods and fields, wild-life, wild birds
Y– (model) yacht racing
Z– Zoo themed days



Lemos and Crane’s Acorn Awards are: “Using nature to improve and enhance the lives of vulnerable and socially excluded people.” The shortlisted projects are completely fabulous, and even just the titles give a really good feel for the richness of experience these provide for their service users, including prisoners.

  • Abbeyfield Society, Cunningham House – The Great Outdoors
  • Abbey Physic Community Garden
  • About Turn CIC – About Turn Angling Academy
  • Brent Lodge Park Art Collective
  • Community Support Initiatives – Building Cohesive Families Using Nature
  • Cwmbwrla Day Services – Organic Gardening and Beekeeping Project
  • Dementia Adventure – Wandering in the Woods
  • Derbyshire Mind – Enjoy Derby; Walking for Wellbeing
  • East Kent Mencap – Bird Diaries
  • Framework Housing Association – Gateway to Nature
  • Future Roots – The Countrymen’s Club
  • HMP Guys Marsh – Biodiversity Corridor
  • Home Group – Mirehouse Community Garden
  • Kairos Community Trust – Kairos Beekeeping
  • King’s Reach – Trax
  • Life Cycle UK – Two’s Company
  • Newport City Homes – The Lliswerry Pond Project
  • Octopus Community Network – Wild Places
  • Poplar HARCA – Re(sidents)Cycling
  • Plas Dwbl: Ruskin Mill Trust
  • St Mungo’s (Bath) – The Big Grow
  • The Hyde Group – The Enchanted Woodland
  • Threshold – Gone Fishing
  • Write to Freedom – Wilderness and Writing Weekend


Categories: Mindfulness, Wardipedia