We are living in hope filled times! In the City of Hume in Melbourne, there is a palpable excitement in organisations business and local government about bringing nature back into our lives.
Why now ? why there ?
For change to happen there must be personal will and passion combined with structures and opportunities that enable people to act. The Healthy Together Victoria initiative has been just that. Its an excellent example of a systems approach that supports hopes, dreams and community leadership by supporting workplaces and schools to become health promoting settings under the guidance of human centered design thinking. These settings design healthy eating, physical activity, mental health , alcohol and smoking initiatives that effect change across policy, culture, community work and internal opportunities for staff.
Low and behold, its nature connection that has been the most popular choice of strategy to address these broader health and wellbeing issues; nature connection in the form of community gardens and orchards mostly, but also outside walking groups and environmental work. This is despite the fact that it is not listed as a benchmark activity for addressing any of the broader health and wellbeing issues in the framework.
People seem to know intuitively that they need to interact with nature, feel it nourshing their bodies in the form of home grown organic food, do some activity to care for it feeling a sense of purpose and doing physical activity in the process; they just needed the official excuse to do it and promote it on work time.
Isn’t it time that nature connection found its way formally into practice frameworks as its own priority area or own benchmark ? After all it is essential in its own right for health and wellbeing.
Whether we like it or not its these frameworks that society values and institutions respond to.
In a brave step, the City of Hume have done just this. They have shifted their environmental care message from one that asks people to look after nature to one that asks people to look after themselves. Why because it works! They have had significantly more engagement in environmental activities by taking a health promoting approach than by taking a traditional environmental approach. This has lead to a number of new partnerships with community health centres and the development of three priority areas:
1. Nature connection (focusing on biodiversity)
2. Food security (focusing on community gardens)
3. Waste, energy and water (other sustainability issues )
This is a major step forward in creating culture change where people start to consciously recognise the importance of nature in their health and wellbeing and a step toward combined environmental and health policy. For this to be truly holistic however, a large gap still remains, an important one. That is to explicitly address spiritual and cultural aspects of the human-nature relationship; to build pride and identity, gratitude and a sense of responsibility; a notion of stewardship and belonging with nature. This is the realm of nature focused arts based projects, mindfulness and celebration, the intrinsic stuff that words don’t explain well. The challenge is to find the words that do fit and find the opportunity to get these words into frameworks and policies. This can and will be done, its only a matter of time.
Note on the author: Erica is researching ways in which organisations are enabling culture change by integrating nature connection into policy and practice; with a particular interest in emotional/spiritual connections with nature.