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Improved mental
health and wellbeing

Explore the benefits highlighted in our Waterways for Today report

Waterway projects can improve mental health and wellbeing.

They can boost wellbeing and improve mental health through physical recreation, shared social experiences and connecting with nature.

How Waterways Can Help

Waterways offer many opportunities to boost wellbeing and improve mental health. As well as providing active forms of recreation, they also offer shared social experiences and the chance to connect with nature.

Mental health and wellbeing has been adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. People with diagnosed conditions have seen them worsen, while isolation and lockdowns caused others to develop new symptoms. Many more have become aware for the first time of long-term mental health issues, previously masked by our busy day-to-day lives.

Increased physical activity is known to improve mental health. As well as more strenuous forms of recreation such as cycling, running and paddle sports, our waterways can also be used for walking a dog, strolling with friends and family, relaxing, visiting canalside pubs and cafés, fishing, wildlife watching, going on a boat trip, photography and much more. Post-pandemic, shared social experiences like these have become more important than ever.

Volunteering can also improve mental health, through a renewed sense of purpose and the satisfaction of a job well done. As well as providing important social interactions and an opportunity to make new friends, volunteering can reduce stress and boost confidence too.

A state of wellbeing in which an individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.

World Health Organisation

Case Study:
Waterways & Wellbeing

People in Nottingham can enjoy an afternoon of paddleboarding, a wellbeing walk, or some canalside gardening on prescription as part of a social prescribing project in the city.

The Waterways and Wellbeing project uses Nottingham’s canal as a focal point to help tackle mental and physical health problems.

People living along the canal, which runs from Nottingham to Beeston, have been accessing a variety of activities. As well as those detailed above, there have been canoeing, running and cycling sessions along the waterway, volunteering opportunities, and the chance to join photography courses, arts activities, cookery classes and communal meals at venues along the canal.

In its first year the project was run by a partnership of local organisations including the Canal & River Trust, Nottingham Community & Voluntary Service, Notts County Foundation, Canalside Heritage Centre, Nottingham Photographers Hub and local foodbank Himmah. Funding was provided through the National Academy of Social Prescribing, Arts Council England, Natural England and Historic England.

Thanks to funding from the Greenspace social prescribing programme, the project has been extended for a further year and expanded to include activities at Holme Pierrepoint National Water Sport Centre and The Mill Base Adventure Centre in Sutton-In-Ashfield.

The programme is open to anyone living in the county who struggles with their mental wellbeing or social isolation.

Facts & Stats

Boating positively affects wellbeing, according to ‘The Economic, Social & Wellbeing Value of Boating’, a new report jointly commissioned by the Canal & River Trust and British Marine. This found that frequent boaters enjoyed a 15% decrease in anxiety and a 6% increase in life expectancy compared to non-boaters.

Studies by the Canal & River Trust indicate that waterways can improve the overall wellbeing of anyone who uses them, with waterway users boasting greater life satisfaction, happiness and feelings of worth than non-waterway users.

There is significant evidence linking outdoor activity with improvements in mental health. The Centre for Sustainable Healthcare found a number of unique characteristics of the waterside environment which, combined with the urban and post-industrial areas they pass through, can demonstrably deliver positive impacts on mental health.

Research carried out for Historic England found volunteering on heritage projects contributed to participants’ wellbeing in six areas: purpose, being, capacity, sharing, self-nurture and self-actualisation. These findings are all underpinned by the heritage setting.