Written by Scott Campbell.
Published at 13:14 BST on Thursday, 2nd August 2012.
Branching Out programme downs its roots in Cumbernauld

Cumbernauld is now part of a pioneering initiative designed by Forestry Commission Scotland which has transformed the lives of more 500 people with mental health issues, throughout the Lanarkshire area.

The project, which is known as the ‘Branching Out’ programme encourages people to use outdoor woodland areas, undertake conservation works and learn basic wilderness survival skills.

Cumbernauld is being a key part of the project, being one of the first areas to sign up to the programme, which is also running in areas such as East Kilbride, with new groups planned throughout the central belt of Scotland.

Talking to The Herald, Kirsty Cathrine, Branching Out programme manager said: “The scheme has gone from strength to strength since its launch in 2007.

“It has introduced many adults who have mental health issues to their local woodland, enabling them to build their confidence and engage with outdoor activities which can lead to a real sense of achievement. This is a key year for the project as we're rolling it out to new areas and Lanarkshire is one of them. We're really looking forward to continuing our work with both councils and the mental health teams involved.”

Research undertaken by the Scottish Association for Mental Health has shown that people who make use of green spaces significantly increase their physical activity levels and improve their confidence and self-esteem.

The 12-week projects are being run in partnership with North and South Lanarkshire councils and the Branching Out programme is readily available in four NHS health boards, in Scotland, with plans in place to expand the programme to NHS Borders, Tayside and Ayrshire and Arran this year.

Kevin O'Neill, Mental Health and Well-being Development Manager for NHS Lanarkshire said: “We are very grateful to Forestry Commission Scotland for bringing the branching out programme to Lanarkshire.

“The staff and clients who have taken part in this programme have described fantastic benefits.

“I would also like to thank our green space partners in North and South Lanarkshire and the NHS Lanarkshire staff who have supported the delivery of these first two programmes.”