In our increasingly fast-paced and urbanised world, the need to reconnect with nature has never been more pressing. Recognising this, Natural England and Libraries Connected have joined forces to launch the Culture Nature project, a ground-breaking initiative aimed at bridging the gap between communities and the natural world.
At the heart of Culture Nature is a simple but powerful idea: local libraries can play a pivotal role in helping individuals rediscover nature, enhance their mental wellbeing, and contribute to nature's recovery in urban landscapes.
Culture Nature is funded by Natural England and Libraries Connected and is being delivered this year in collaboration with libraries in six different regions across England in Bradford, Bristol, Doncaster, Leicestershire, Staffordshire and Sutton.
Libraries Connected are an organisation which sits at the heart of communities, reflecting and responding to local needs. Representing all public library services in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, their vision is of an inclusive, modern, sustainable and high-quality public library service. Libraries Connected play an important role in promoting well-being and community cohesion by producing a range of cultural activities with their local communities and providing many with access to vital online services.
What is Culture Nature?
Our shared vision is to create a project that will transform local libraries into thriving hubs for nature enthusiasts, beginners, and everyone in between.
Culture Nature's brilliance lies in its simplicity. It transforms local libraries into dynamic nature hubs. Localised approaches ensure that libraries tailor their offerings to meet the unique needs of their communities.
- Library resources: Libraries offer a vast array of books, multimedia, and digital resources related to nature, conservation, gardening, and outdoor activities. These resources serve as educational tools and sources of inspiration.
- Workshops and events: Libraries host workshops, lectures, and events led by experts in various fields. From birdwatching seminars to sustainable gardening workshops, these events provide valuable knowledge and hands-on experiences.
- Community gardens: Many libraries incorporate community gardens into their spaces. These gardens serve as a local space for urban residents to relax, meet each other and engage with nature firsthand.
Community engagement is at the heart of Culture Nature and its libraries will be working with a huge variety of groups from new mothers to refugees, to people with disabilities, to older people experiencing loneliness and isolation. We want everyone to feel welcome and get involved and connect with nature in a way that works for them.
Oliver Harmar, Chief Operating Officer of Natural England said:
“We want communities to experience all the benefits that come from spending time in nature. Culture Nature provides a fantastic opportunity to bring people together and support people’s mental health and wellbeing. It also will contribute to improving vital green spaces for people and nature in the heart of our towns and cities.”
The project's aims are to:
- Promote mental health and wellbeing: By offering resources, activities, and spaces that allow people to unwind, reflect, and find solace in nature, Culture Nature addresses the growing concern of mental health issues in urban areas.
- Encourage action for nature's recovery: Culture Nature aims to inspire individuals to become advocates for nature. By fostering an understanding and appreciation for the environment, the project hopes to mobilise communities to take action in their own neighbourhoods.
- Create spaces for nature in cities: Urbanisation often results in the loss of green spaces. Culture Nature envisions a future where urban communities actively contribute to the creation and preservation of natural spaces within city limits.
Isobel Hunter MBE, Chief Executive of Libraries Connected said:
"Libraries Connected is thrilled to be working with Natural England on this exciting and timely project. Public libraries are committed to working with communities to address the environmental challenges they face – acting not only as trusted sources of information, but also as catalysts for change. They are ideally placed to help people enjoy and reflect on the natural world around them, while supporting its recovery and renewal.”
Partnerships and collaborations
Initiatives such as Culture Nature example Natural England’s mission of ‘Building Partnerships for Nature Recovery’, upon which our achievements in nature restoration rely. An integral part of Culture Nature's success is its partnerships with local organisations, environmental experts and volunteers. During a pilot in three libraries in Hampshire, Natural England worked with over 10 partners including the NHS, RSPB and Mind. These collaborations enhance the depth and diversity of what the project is able to offer the communities. Environmental organisations can provide resources and expertise, while volunteers contribute their time to run workshops and activities. Natural England provides training on Nature Connection to all staff in participating libraries.
Natural England has a commitment in tackling barriers to nature and ensuring that people from all walks of life have greater access to green spaces close to where they live. In addition to becoming nature hubs, libraries are developing into multi-agency drop-in spaces where community facing professionals host regular engagement sessions and take up residency away from their usual office spaces and surgeries. Developments such as this increase opportunities to join up societal initiatives such as health and education and engage the public in a place where they frequent and feel comfortable, often located in the heart of their local community. Initiatives such as Culture Nature provide an opportunity for those from underrepresented groups to experience nature first-hand within their local community. Library partnerships such as these are a valuable resource, providing free services at a time of financial crisis and, where access to nature can be a well-needed escape for both mental and physical wellbeing.
How you can get involved
This Libraries Week, why not take the step and find out how you can get involved? If you live in Bradford, Bristol, Doncaster, Leicestershire, Staffordshire or Sutton and are interested in participating in or supporting this initiative, visit your local library and inquire about Culture Nature activities. We hope to roll this project out across England in the future and establish a network of libraries across the country actively engaged in reconnecting communities with nature.