A community festival in Ullapool is helping to connect residents, improve their mental health and wellbeing and link them closer to the local environment.
The Feel Good Festival run by the High Life Highland supported Ullapool Community Sport Hub includes a range of free informal events that promote physical activity, mental health and wellbeing opportunities, as well as help residents to connect with their local community and environment.
Ullapool is one of over 200 hubs across Scotland that encourage sport clubs and community organisations to work together to understand local need and provide opportunities for everyone to take part in sport and physical activity.
About the festival
After the success of the inaugural event in 2019, the Feel Good Festival was held at the end of November 2020. The idea stemmed from a working group within the hub who were looking to build on the health and wellbeing agenda that was already established within the community.
In partnership with local and national third-sector organisations, local clubs, groups, volunteers and businesses, the festival highlighted what Ullapool and the surrounding areas has to offer through a diverse range of events and projects, while helping people better understand what can impact on their mental health.
Partners were approached by the hub officer to help promote the festival and also to run an event that related to their specialism. All events were free to participants and this was largely due to most partners providing their services at no – or significantly reduced – cost.
Katie Matthews, High Life Highland's community sport hub officer said: “Social isolation is already an issue in rural communities and a barrier to maintaining mental wellbeing.
“The effects of not being able to connect with the community ‘face-to-face’ have been amplified by the pandemic so finding ways to tackle this became a key goal for the festival this year.
“We are very fortunate in the Highlands as a number of key community services and roles fall under High Life Highland’s remit, including community sport hubs, Active Schools and youth work.
“We have a great High Life Highland team in Ullapool and they were pivotal in helping to make this year’s festival happen during the pandemic.
“The high level of community and partner engagement has also been key in ensuring a holistic, collaborative approach allowing the festival to better meet the community and wider health and wellbeing outcomes.”
Twenty-two partners came together to deliver 18 events ranging from mountain biking and walking to mindfulness sessions and intergenerational quizzes. The festival contained a mix of virtual and outdoor workshops and activities, to accommodate the whole community during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which has restricted some residents from leaving their homes and suffering from social isolation as a result.
Green health projects
Thanks to funding through the Think Health Think Nature initiative, the festival incorporated Green Health events for the first time, helping to broaden its aims of getting people active while connecting with their environment.
Think Health Think Nature, formerly called the Highland Green Health Partnership, is one of several partnerships within NatureScot’s “Our Nature Health Service” initiative. The Partnership is made up of representatives from NatureScot, NHS Highland, The Highland Council, The Highland Third Sector Interface, High Life Highland and the University of Highlands and Islands (UHI) as well as representative medical practitioners.
Alongside funding for several events, delivered through local partnerships, was the creation and distribution of winter wellbeing packs which were provided to 777 people within the wider community of Ullapool.
The packs contained a range of activities, information and resources all of which were tailored to be suitable for specific hard-to-reach groups – primary-school pupils, secondary-school pupils, care-home residents and users of medical practices and community food banks– so that they could find ways to stay active and look after their mental health and wellbeing during winter.
The basic packs contained plant pots, compost and seeds or bulbs to connect residents with nature no matter where they lived, as well as activities and exercises they could do.
The packs also contained a recipe for a smoothie to educate residents on eating healthier to improve their mental health, with the local supermarket providing free bags of fruit and veg to allow people to come and collect the bags to make the smoothie at home.
In partnership with local artist Julia Barton, one of the Green Health events encouraged the community to explore and learn about their local coastline by picking litter from a local beach. The washed-up plastic and fishing nets are now in production to be recycled and repurposed for community health benefits – skipping ropes will be provided to local primary schools to run a skipathon later in the year.
Toni Clark, High Life Highland Green Health projects officer, said “I was delighted to be able to support the Feel Good Festival events and Winter Wellbeing packs. Working with the Ullapool community sports hub has enabled me to see how HLH teams and staff can look at running further Green Health activities across the Highlands at a time when there is increasing recognition of the connection between nature and wellbeing."
The festival has impacted 1,081 people in the Ullapool area with 100% of participants who answered a survey saying the Feel Good Festival had improved their mental health and wellbeing.
Katie said: “The Feel Good Festival has helped Ullapool CSH to take a community-centred approach for health and wellbeing.
“Involving and empowering local communities, particularly disadvantaged groups, through events like this plays a crucial role for both promoting health and reducing inequalities.
“Incorporating Green Health has also helped people to look at how they can make their daily exercise and activity more sustainable both for themselves and the environment.
“Over the past two years the festival has proven to be an adaptable, scalable model which will be a fixture in the local calendar for years to come.
“What’s pleasing to see is the benefits the festival is having in the local area. We are seeing an increase in activity levels as well as better relationships being built across the community.
“The Feel Good Festival has had a significant legacy impact with the Community Sport Hub working group continuing to develop a number of the activities that formed part of this year’s Festival.”