IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


New project to support children’s mental health with art in nature

22 March 2022

A new IOE project that helps children’s mental health through the use of art in nature has been granted funding today by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Child drawing a butterfly with chalk outdoors

The Branching Out project, led by Professor Nicola Walshe at IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society, will create an implementation plan for primary schools that helps them work with artists in outdoor spaces. By doing this it aims to make a positive impact on children’s mental health and wellbeing.

There is a growing number of children requiring support for their mental health, and an increase in demand for mental health services. Studies have shown that regular time outdoors and the arts can aid mental health and wellbeing, and the Branching Out project seeks to bring these together and help schools and communities to develop this.

The project is one of 12 funded by AHRC that will display innovative ways of using culture and nature to improve health and wellbeing. The projects involve researchers collaborating with communities across the UK to establish how cultural and natural interventions can be placed at the service of public health.

Branching Out follows on from Professor Walshe’s Eco-Capabilities project that explores how the wellbeing of primary school children can be supported through working with artists in outdoor spaces in school. The project found that working with artists in nature has a positive impact on the mental health and wellbeing of children, particularly those with risk factors of adverse mental health. Branching Out will build on this work and will investigate the feasibility of expanding and implementing the Eco-Capabilities project more widely.

The new project will use a participatory approach in collaboration with colleagues at Anglia Ruskin University and working with stakeholders from schools, arts organisations, children’s mental health charities, and representatives from local authorities and NHS Trusts. Collectively, the team will co-produce an implementation plan for working in partnership to recruit volunteers from local communities to become Community Artscapers. The project will recruit and train the Community Artscapers to deliver the programme of activity. This will add vital capacity and enable projects to be developed in schools at a national level.

Professor Nicola Walshe said: “There is now significant societal concern about the mental health and wellbeing of our children and young people, which has only been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, a significant proportion of children who experience mental health problems do not receive appropriate support at a sufficiently early age, despite the fact that provision of early intervention can make a considerable difference. In an effort to combat these urgent problems, schools are increasingly expected to support mental health and wellbeing, but receive few resources to do so.

“The Eco-Capabilities project has been instrumental in evidencing how arts-based practice in nature can address this, supporting children’s mental health and wellbeing, for example through the development of confidence and relationships with both each other and their local environment. Our new Branching Out project will allow us to explore how the practice articulated in Eco-Capabilities can support children’s wellbeing in schools at scale, and I am very excited about the opportunities for working in partnership across health, education and third sector organisations to do this.”



Allan Mas from Pexels