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Paul's story: ‘Personal growth through the Wild Ways Well programme'

I came in as a trainee with a remit to create a mental health project, and that’s where Wild Ways Well was born. We were funded for that year through TCV to take people who had very little chance of getting a job in conservation, and give them an opportunity to do something, to demonstrate what they could do. When that money ran out, I was able to find more small funding pots from a few sources including the Voluntary Action North Lanarkshire, who funded me to continue on delivering Wild Ways Well into the pilot phase. Then the National Lottery money kicked in. Because of that pilot phase that we’d had, we all knew exactly what we wanted to do. We were all confident we could do it. So it was a really exciting time, and we were all very full of promise. For the first year or so, everything progressed as we expected it to. The team was very good, we got onboard some really great trainees. We already had enough contacts that it wasn’t hard to get volunteers and members of the public involved. I really felt we were making a difference. 

Then obviously the pandemic came and everything got a bit confused. As a team we really pulled together during those early lockdowns, we came up with a lot of good ideas of how we were going to transition from outdoor to online delivery and how we were going to adapt to the change of circumstances. I think we did well in that original lockdown phase. It was a bit chaotic at times because we were kind of just coming up with things on the fly. We were throwing everything at the wall and seeing what stuck. I felt that we were pretty successful; we maintained as much contact as we could with the volunteers and the feedback we were getting from them was really good. I still felt that we were making a difference, I still felt that what we were offering was worthwhile, so that therefore made me feel happy. And actually to be honest, it really supported me through that lockdown phase. I don’t know how I would have coped if I’d been furloughed. I suspect my own mental health would have severely suffered at that poinThe relatively long-term nature of the funding gave us time to innovate, to try different things, to work out what doesn’t work, as well as what does work. The original sessions were very rigid. It was very formal. And whilst that does work with some audiences, we found that to be a bit of a barrier, because everybody is different. We found that being very adaptable worked a lot better. I see it as my job to work out where they are in their mental health cycle, and what they want to do. That’s a skill that I developed over that time. That adaptability was key to making all that happen. 

Some of our participants approached us in an incredibly vulnerable state, in a really difficult part of life. We took one participant right through the entire journey from participant to volunteer, to trainee, to employee, and is now working elsewhere in conservation. Turned his life completely around. It keeps me going, those kinds of thoughts, that we really helped some individuals. I’m quite emotional about it because that’s replicating my own journey, because I was there; I was them at one point. Nature absolutely changed my life, and having had the opportunity to extend that onto other people and to help them to discover what I discovered, and to go on their own journey means a lot to me. There’s a wee glow in my heart that I’ve helped someone else to experience what I experienced and watched them flourish.

Then things started to get a little bit difficult. We had a new management team come in, and things were immediately very different. I think it almost immediately started to go wrong. All of a sudden, the goals and targets seemed to have changed but we weren’t sure how they’d changed, and it wasn’t being communicated to us. I suspect if we’d all been in an office together this would have been fine. But because we were all working remotely, because we weren’t seeing each other, because we weren’t having the team meetings that we were used to having, it did become very difficult. Morale within the team was extremely low.  We very much felt that what we were doing wasn’t valued. My own mental health at that point started to really suffer. Although we felt we were hitting the targets, we weren’t always getting that feedback from management. That became a very unhappy time unfortunately. 

So yeah, the opportunity for me came up to take on a new job in Livingston, still with TCV. It felt like the right time to go, for the good of this project as well as for the good of myself. I moved over to another Health and Wellbeing project in West Lothian. I was able to take the experiences and the knowledge that I gained from here to that new post. I'm using the same techniques, I’m using the same processes, in some cases using similar contacts, and delivering a new project. So I’m really proud of that. My version of Wild Ways Well still lives on. 

I came into this as a trainee with no prospects of employment, no prospects of working in conservation, no belief in myself as someone who could work in conservation, or who could manage a project, or who could deliver a project like this, and CNC showed me that I can. They’ve showed me that I’m capable of doing this, that I can achieve things in my working life that I never thought I would be able to do. So if that Lottery money hadn’t been there and I hadn’t been able to extend that project on, I probably would have went back to being unemployed and… who knows what that would have done to me at the time, whether I would have had the confidence to continue working, or the belief in myself, having been told all my life that you’ll never work, and you’ll never be able to do this kind of thing. I developed mental resilience. I learnt a lot about how to work with volunteers, I learnt all the stories of the volunteers that we work with, which has shaped my practice, and shaped what I do now. And although we’re calling it something different, I’m delivering Wild Ways Well in Livingston now. I’ve been able to train other people in delivering it. I know there are other people now delivering Wild Ways Well across the Central Belt, and hopefully that will continue elsewhere. Because I believe in Wild Ways Well as a model, I genuinely believe in this kind of green health model. It works. And I’m proud of the version that we developed here.


This is part of the project 'Stories of nature connections' (


Project Information
Project Type: 
Active Project


Areas of Interest

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.