From lockdown to now, Neil has kept busy finding new ways to keep people engaged with nature.
With lockdown easing and many returning to patterns of life closer to ‘normal’, memories of late March and early April seem distant. One of the most distinctive features of the time – other than discussions of trying to keep up with a Joe Wicks workout or grappling with Zoom for the first time – was ‘the daily exercise’.
Many were pleasantly surprised to discover the beauty of their doorstep, often overlooked for higher profile, more distant destinations. There was a realisation of the long standing evidence showing the benefits on mental and physical health of being outdoors.
But this wasn’t possible for everyone. Those shielding found themselves needing to remain indoors and for others, mobility limitations would constrain opportunities.
As Project Manager for Countryside Mobility, a charity initiative helping people access beauty spots through a network of all-terrain mobility scooter hire, I was painfully aware that as I discovered the pleasures of local lanes, those who would normally use our scheme (and many more besides) were unlikely to have the same opportunities.
With all our hire locations closed down, how could we continue to help people access the countryside? Could we bring the countryside into their home?
The idea of starting a podcast began to enter my mind. I had a few bits of recording equipment from my occasional work as a videographer and a long list of contacts at beautiful places around the South West. After a fortnight of intense research into how to create and publish a podcast, the first set of ‘guests’ were interviewed, the show edited and the first episode ‘went live’ just in time for Easter.
For those unfamiliar with a podcast, it’s essentially a radio programme, but available through the internet rather than a radio. This means you can listen whenever is convenient to you through a computer, tablet, phone or even a fancy smart speaker. It can seem a little alien but it’s really very simple and you’ll discover a whole world of listening.
Each episode aims to take people on an audio journey exploring a different aspects of the outdoors – woodlands, coasts, long distance trails, hedgerows, forests and much more – with ‘guests’ including researchers, rangers, experts, enthusiasts and, of course, Stepping into Nature’s very own Julie Hammon. We’ve even spoken to a hotel inspector!
I’ve learnt a lot along the way but what’s been most encouraging is the regular theme of the difference opening up opportunities for people to experience more of the natural world makes. While a podcast can’t substitute for the real thing I hope it’s been helpful in bringing a fraction of those benefits to those who may, for whatever reason, find accessing them difficult at the moment. And given that we’ve had a number of listens from Paradise (a town in the USA) it seems that we could all benefit from an extra dose of the outdoors!
If you are interested in the all-terrain mobility scooters then the fantastic news is they are available for hire again!
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