28 May 2014
Kerry Lane on regenerating urban and rural health
Kerry Lane (see right) is a Transitioner and Social Reporter, and in this post, she shares her thoughts on Transition and health, inspired by her recent move to the countryside.
Living out in the countryside gives you an interesting alternative perspective on health, you really are faced with an entirely different situation to urbanites. A lot of public health policy and, dare I say, Transition initiatives, have a fairly urban perspective. For a resilient, regenerative and nourishing culture we are going to have to get everyone involved. So having only relatively recently returned to the countryside it is interesting to consider my new health situation.
My public health situation
In the public health sense I am much further away from emergency medical care, these winding country lanes don’t make for fast response times. I am fortunate that there is a doctors surgery in the next village, which is the case for steadily fewer rural areas, but getting myself registered with an NHS dentist turned out to be a considerable challenge and although I have managed I still have to travel to the nearest big town, 8 miles away. Being pedal, foot and public transport powered means that this is an entire mornings excursion, similarly my nearest pharmacy is 5 miles, 30 minutes cycle away (and no buses in that direction…).
Wellbeing benefits of living rurally
So with that, less than resilient, public health situation (not even considering the resilience and suitability of the services when I get to them, see previous posts this month for thoughts on that) it is good job that I take responsibility for nurturing my own health, so I don’t need these services as much. In many ways I find it easier to be healthy in the countryside, in general there is a greater abundance of plants species which I use for health maintenance and minor complaints. I also get a lot more exercise as I regularly cycle and walk much further than I did in the town.
And a really big factor for me is being surrounded by much more nature, having quiet places to contemplate in, many more creatures to watch and get to know, many of whom like to join us in the house! For me connection with nature is fundamental to my wellbeing and I am not alone. The scientific evidence for what many of us intuitively know to be true, is really mounting up. I found a whole plethora of information here. We need nature, not just to provide all our other basic needs; food, drink, shelter, but also because we have evolved to be surrounded by and connected to it. Being ‘separated’ from nature lead to all kinds of psychological and physical health problems.
I also find that a connection to the place where I am, it’s heritage and culture, is important to my wellbeing. It connects me into the story of the area and helps me feel at home. Of course this is not something that is rural or urban specific, in fact it can often be a bit harder to find in rural areas. Living rurally isn’t always better for my wellbeing and health.
Wellbeing challenges of living rurally
Slightly counter intuitively considering where most of our food is grown, it can actually be harder to get healthy food in the countryside, without easy access to the independent health food shops and markets of urban areas. I do have a village shop near me with some locally grown veg, but it would be quite challenging to have a healthy diet from what it sells. So I currently rely on veg boxes and occasional excursions to the wholefood shops, 8 miles away. I can also imagine it being very difficult to find space to grow your own if you didn’t have land, as allotments are much rarer in rural areas.
Depending on where you live rurally there is also the health threat of agricultural chemicals. I remember going out for a walk last year and having to turn back as I really did not want to inhale the wind drift of whatever they were spraying on the crop. I suppose it is just different chemicals from the car fumes you get to inhale in the cities, but never-the-less not ones I want to come into contact with if I can help it.
A challenge which I hadn’t anticipated affecting my health, when I moved out to the country, is isolation. Now I don’t mean there aren’t a good number of people around, as it definitely isn’t deserted where I live, but I have found it much more challenging to find people and local activities I can get involved in which share my values of Earthcare, Peoplecare and Fairshares. I think I took it for granted in urban areas, all of the different interesting activities I could get involved in and how there was nearly always a ‘green’ group of some sort to join with people who were striving towards a similar vision as me.
And my, my is it challenging to do this in the countryside, or at least I am guessing it takes considerably longer to establish your network of friends and activities. In the meantime you feel quite isolated and drawn to doing lots of travelling into your nearest urban area. Isolation really isn’t good for my wellbeing.
Building bridges to share the yields
But Transition is all about solutions and doing, so surely something can be done? A lot of the posts this month have focussed specifically on public health (it is the theme after all!), but I want to explore the huge opportunities to be found by thinking laterally.
I am working at the moment on a project which could help share some of the health benefits between urban and rural dwellers. At first glance you wouldn’t think it had much to do with health – Nearly Wild Camping, creating a network of ‘wilder’ locations for basic camping and ambassadors for the countryside across the UK – but in the wider context of health creation and wellbeing it has a lot to offer. It creates the opportunity for both sides to get some of the benefits associated with the other.
Exploring the world around you
For people living in urban areas it provides opportunities to spend time exploring the wilder corners of our countryside, sleeping under the stars and getting up close to the creatures that make their homes there. It is very easy as someone living in the countryside to think that all people need to do is get out of the cities and find it, but if you’re not familiar with an area or the ways of the UK countryside it is actually very difficult to know where you can go.
At many Nearly Wild locations there is also the opportunity to learn from the people who live and work there and are passionate about their local wildlife, heritage and culture. We have only been official for a few weeks, but already have a variety of locations that could offer a real range of different experiences, including a private nature reserve and permaculture smallholdings. From experience at the original Nearly Wild location, Underhill Farm, we found that this informal mentoring in exploring the world around you and introducing people to new ways of thinking really inspires them, with unpredictable results. A local woman who had never camped before came with friends to an early Underhill Farm event and is now the local cub scouts leader!
As I mentioned earlier, this connection to the world around you is really very important in creating and maintaining wellbeing. I even saw some research the other day that sleeping in a tent for a week, without electrics lights could help cure insomnia! Although I imagine where your tent is and what the weather is doing are fairly important factors…
Creating a community
And the benefits go both ways, for the people providing the locations, being involved can reduce their isolation. Sharing their passions with interested people who come to visit and also being part of a network of people across the country, who are trying to do similar things and can share experiences, advice and support each other. We have set up Nearly Wild Camping as a co-operative to really try and encourage and embed this aspect of it.
Of course it also gives location providers another source of earth-friendly livelihood, which can also be harder to come by in the countryside.
As in nature, it is establishing the connections and the beneficial relationships that makes something resilient and abundant. We are hoping with Nearly Wild Camping to enable some of these connections and help create wellbeing both for those living in urban areas and those in the countryside, so if you know any locations or campers who might want to be involved then send them our way.
This is of course just one of many possibilities out there. I would be really interested to hear of any other ‘unconventional’ routes to health that people know of or are involved in, particularly those that span rural and urban areas.