Participants come from a range of backgrounds and have experiences such as homelessness, substance use or the criminal justice system.
Those involved have been offered experiences from hill walking, indoor climbing, and gorge walking to kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding.
The aim of the project is to take people away from their normal environments and social networks, providing people with a space to breathe, reducing external pressures and allowing time for personal growth.
During sessions, a community has developed.
Participants talk about being part of a group who treat each other, and their environment, with respect – something they haven’t always received, in their home-life, amongst peers or from institutions.
Beyond the participants, the programme brought together organisations committed to an innovative way of supporting people experiencing homelessness.
Denbighshire Council, UK Mountain Days, Ways of Mindfulness, Outdoors Magic, Webtogs, The Climbers Shop & Joe Browns, have all helped to create experiences for people otherwise excluded from society.
A partnership with the outdoor clothing company Rohan, has given The Wallich the opportunity to talk about trauma and homelessness in the company’s newsletters and articles – better integrating people experiencing homelessness within the hiking and climbing community.
Many of the participants reason that the improvements to their emotional and mental health, come from being part of something, of a community, where they felt valued and were treated with respect.
They are not shouted at, put down, can sit in peace, and had a shared enjoyment of something positive and healthy.
One participant says their usual environment includes hearing shouting or others being treated badly whenever they walk down the street.
Some participants were housed in hotels throughout the pandemic, and, owing the UK wide housing shortage, are unfortunately still there some two and a half years later.
Living day-to-day with that level of instability and uncertainty, can have hugely detrimental effects on our ability to think positively about the future. It’s harder to move towards a life where self-doubt and a negative self-image are a thing of the past.
Each person worked so hard on the days they attended, all showing courage, determination, commitment and patience.
Everyone, regardless of role i.e., Mountain Leader, Psychotherapist, staff member or client, treats each other with respect, and are supportive and encouraging.
The 16 participants attending the sessions have spoken of feeling better about themselves for periods following attending.
One participant talked of looking after their temporary accommodation space better – they were cleaning more and cooking regularly.
A female participant disclosed to the team that this was:
“The best day of my life, ever.”
She didn’t know how to swim, but during one session found herself confidently floating in the river wearing a life vest and showed less fear of the water.
In one person who was alcohol dependent, staff had noticed changes in behaviour over the duration of the program. The person showed less urgency to drink after a day in the mountains.
That same person said they now wanted to start back at their volunteering placement.
In fact, many participants said they realised they would struggle to participate in activities if they were under the influence of drink or drugs, so they began to self-regulate and reduce their intake
The Wallich has seen that calm space and assistance from a trained psychotherapist has cleared the way for conversations which may not have happened in a traditional support environment.
As staff from The Wallich also attend these sessions, the individual outcomes and progress will also influence the participants’ support going forward.
We have recently had confirmation from another funding source, that we are able to provide these opportunities to another two groups of people from our services across the north of Wales.
Plus, the relationships that helped kick all this off are still incredibly supportive.
Outdoors Magic have recently sent another package of amazing outdoor clothing.
Thanks to an introduction by MyOutdoors, The Wallich is going to be a beneficiary of Rohans “Gift Your Gear” campaign, which will see our pool of outdoor clothing and equipment grow even more.
There is evidence from all over The Wallich that diversionary activities help not just in a person’s wellbeing, but also in the relationships that support staff work so hard at fostering.
As a vision for the future, programmes like this should be factored into commissioning and funding; the benefits of which to all could be huge.