Greg's husband Warren in the autumn woods

During these long months of pandemic and confinement, I’ve gained so much strength and happiness from Nature.

I’m not quite sure why I’m using a capital ‘N’ for Nature – when really nature for me is so simple – the garden and the trees and the coast and the birds singing on my morning walk along the river.

But the capital ‘N’ does give it the sense of importance and priority that it really deserves, particularly in the context of our individual and collective mental health. And the theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, which starts today, is Nature – and celebrating nature’s unique ability to not only bring consolation in times of stress, but also increase our creativity, empathy and sense of wonder.

During the short, dark days of winter, as we experienced lockdown and isolation, going for a morning walk with my husband along the river, or across the fields or up to the forest, really was like an elixir – I could come back into the warmth of the house knowing that I wasn’t alone, or isolated, but surrounded by beautiful countryside that gave me sustenance.

There have been times for me during the last year where confinement meant that we could not leave the house much at all. On those occasions, I was lucky enough to be able to walk into our back garden, and see the lilac tree beginning to bloom, or the little finches scraping in the dirt for some worms or the onions beginning to push through and sprout. Having this connection to nature has been such a fillip for my emotional wellbeing.

At  METRO, we have had to pause some of our outdoor activities during the pandemic. We have allotments which have been on hold. Soon though we will start gardening again, and holding meetings at the allotment, and having BBQs and other events there too. We also have a cycling project, which has been on hold, but we have taken the time during the pandemic to map out some more accessible cycle routes which will take our staff, volunteers and service users through green spaces. We also have outside spaces at some of METRO’s premises, and reinvigorating these collective spaces will allow us to meet together in the greenery and weather, safely.

As we slowly emerge from this pandemic, let’s realise how Nature and nature have helped us through its darkest days. Let’s also re-connect with nature on our walks and cycles and in our gardens and parks and wildlife areas – and notice how this simple connection impacts our mental health and our emotional well-being.

And let’s remember that being outside, together, ambling and noticing and connecting, is an act of solidarity that strengthens each of us, singly and collectively.