Natalie Ganpatsingh is a director of the social enterprise, Nature Nurture, and a Trustee at the Network of Wellbeing. In the second edition of our series talking to people in the world of wellbeing, Natalie tells us about her journey from philosophy student to artist, to running an organisation which connects young people and adults with nature.
A way into wellbeing
I started out studying philosophy and social anthropology at university which I really enjoyed. While along the way, I made friends with theatre makers and creatives and gained experience as a theatre designer, muralist and illustrator.
When I left university, I gained a place as an Expedition Artist in Belize with Raleigh International, running workshops, painting murals and working with indigenous communities. When I got back to the UK, I built up my own company which combined art, theatre and design.
Twelve years ago, I decided that a change was needed. My heart was in tackling inequality and issues in the environment and when I ran into an old friend, I had the opportunity to look at where I wanted to go next. I spent a week training as a Forest School leader in the Lake District, which served as a catalyst for realising how important and impactful it is to be immersed in nature. It was then that I decided I wanted to set up a not-for-profit organisation.
Growing up, I always had the chance to get out and be in nature, but I realised that nowadays childhood is often indoors and sedentary. It was then that I knew I wanted to create something that enabled kids to be active in nature. To me, this is the key to wellbeing and where the idea for Nurture Nature came from.
I began writing funding proposals, mapping Reading – where I live and Nurture Nature is based –, visiting green spaces and studying indices of deprivation. I wanted to know which demographics have the least access to nature so that we could aim to support those communities.
We began our work in schools and communities and in more recent years we’ve been supporting adult mental health and wellbeing with initiatives such as Walking for Wellbeing, providing a stepping-stone back into everyday life.
I had my own experiences of a serious mental breakdown in my early 20s to draw on. The rug was taken from beneath my feet, and I had the chance to rebuild myself as a young adult. I had to learn what was going to make me well. Nature Nurture now runs green social prescribing programmes that support mental health, so it feels like I have come full circle.
Studying Natural England data, focussed on which communities experience the least nature connection, made it clear that everything we do must be free. To me, a relationship with nature should be non-transactional. If we think of green spaces as our ‘shared garden’, we’re more likely to spend time in them and look after them.
A wellbeing awakening
In 2019 I went to Building Wellbeing Together and met the Network of Wellbeing’s Director, Roger, for the first time. I heard Satish Kumar speak and was overwhelmed. I experienced an awakening of the connection between personal and community wellbeing and wellbeing of the wider world. It came home to me in a really deep way that when we nurture our own wellbeing we can nurture it in others, and this can be deeply transformational. I’ve also started exploring metaphors in nature to support our wellbeing.
A powerful movement
To me, wellbeing brings together everything that is important. I’m so passionate about this movement and want to help give more traction to it nationally and internationally. It’s this driving force that propelled me to say yes (after initially saying no!) to NOW when they invited me to become a Trustee. I’m also a Trustee of the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust and the motivation behind both roles is the desire to play a part in the nationwide movement of nature restoration and wellbeing.
Lead with hope
Some people think that promoting wellbeing is a denial about the terrible things happening in the world. I acknowledge all these crises but within this context it’s recognising, which Satish and Chris Johnstone explain really well, that despite the adversity we all have the power to sow the seeds of hope and bring about positive change.
I hope that, as the wellbeing movement grows, there will be a shift in healthcare where we engage with the natural environment as a means to support health and wellbeing and reciprocate by looking after our parks, woodlands, waterways and oceans. I’d like to see people from all walks of life accessing the nature on their doorstep. The more we recognise that our wellbeing is intertwined with each other and our planet, the better.
Find out more about Nurture Nature here.