“Over the last fourteen months, many of us have felt frustrated and hopeless at times. The pandemic has affected us all but not equally. It is the inequity which has me riled. Reflecting on the last 14 months there is no doubt it has been tricky for all of us but more difficult for some than others.

The pandemic took away the livelihoods of individuals overnight. Only this week I was chatting to Sam (not their real name) who is someone we are supporting. I listened to their story which is a familiar one that I hear frequently. Sam was living in London and working as a self-employed freelancer. Overnight work dried up. There was no income, no safety net, not everyone could be on furlough or find alternative employment. 40 plus-year-old Sam, was forced to retreat home to Suffolk to live with parents, left with little choice but to ride out the storm. The storm raged and the impact on Sam’s mental health was catastrophic - signed off from work and their mental health in crisis.

We have been working with Sam now for a few weeks and life is getting back on track.  Sam now has a new job, which is just amazing. The programme we put in place to provide Sam with mental health support was slow at first but day by day we have seen that confidence return. We put Sam in a green environment, where it is safe. Gradually week by week, step by step we supported Sam.  This is where the Green Light Trust is different. It is not just about having a nice walk in the woods or admiring the bluebells - even though no one can deny their beauty. It is about the skills that we teach individuals. Incremental steps using the healing power of nature as a catalyst that makes the difference. It delivers results that I know change lives. Sam’s life has been transformed. How many more Sams are out there who we have not heard from? How many individuals are suffering out there on their own? How many have fallen through the cracks in our society - already visible, pre-pandemic - which has become a crevasse now?

Too many of us have to fight to get heard. Too many of us face discrimination in health, education, and access to green space. There are too many in society who are facing complex challenges such as poor mental health or drug addiction. Others who in life have had the cards stacked against them and are not given a fair chance. They are suffering in silence. This must stop. We can do something about it.

It does not have to cost the earth; it could be a sustainable future from here on in. We know from research conducted by the University of Essex, that attending one of our courses results in a 28% reduction in visits to the GP, and 24% fall in attendance at the ever-pressurized A & E. This equates to millions of pounds of savings a year for the NHS. This is without considering that poor mental health, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease can all be improved by access to green space. Prevention is always better than cure surely? These are positive lessons learnt from Covid.

The pandemic has taken its toll, but it has provided us with an incredible once in a lifetime opportunity that I believe should not be wasted. For many of us, during lockdown, our walk in the park or the woods sustained us. It made us feel more positive, able to cope with the stress; enjoy some exercise, all of which is good for our health and our wellbeing. Access to nature is not equitable even in the green leafy beautiful county of Suffolk. The ONS reported only a couple of weeks ago that across Suffolk and North Essex, 76 neighbourhoods are among the richest 10% of the country - while 30 areas are in the poorest 10%.

1 in 5 of us, roughly 9.6 million people in the UK, are deprived of green space. 2.69 million of us do not live within ten minutes’ walk of a park. In the most deprived neighbourhoods, the average amount of public green space is fewer than nine square metres - less than the size of the average garden shed. The statistics make even grimmer reading for members of the BAME community. 40% of people from BAME backgrounds live in the most green-deprived areas, compared to just 14% of white people. I want us to do better. I want to make sure that we work with more individuals. Provide them with the tools and the right structure so they can transform their lives.

Right now, we support around 2,000 individuals a year mainly in Suffolk, but I want to grow nationally. Support more people from right across the country. To build for the future we need to meet the challenge head-on. We must focus on those who face the most barriers and the least access to nature. We know that our skills help individuals from childhood to senior citizens improve their self-esteem to get reconnected. We know that our work helps to motivate those seeking new employment opportunities and others to escape from an addictive or abusive past. We also know that we cannot do this alone. We need the support of other organisations to make this happen and it will not be overnight.

If you want to join our team and work for the Green Light Trust, get in touch. If you want to volunteer or need support and want to attend a course, drop us a line. If you are in business and your team has not been in the office for over a year and they need to reconnect or they have been suffering under the pressure of dealing with the pandemic, give us a call. We can run a team building day for your organisation so that your colleagues can put something back into the community but also improve their wellbeing.

The pandemic has taught us several things. We have all learnt lessons. Hopefully, we appreciate one another a little more. We might notice the beauty around us that nature provides and think about the things that really matter. Our future could be a bright one, if it is also inclusive and green."

Have a look at a more in-depth analysis of the impact we've had so far, here

July 2021