WGU secures £400,000 of funding to research nature-based interventions to improve student wellbeing

Outdoor space on campus

Date: Monday 13th March 2023

Wrexham Glyndwr University (WGU) has secured more than £400,000 of funding to lead a project that will investigate how nature-based interventions for students can help to improve their wellbeing and feel more connected to the local community and its environment.

Working alongside the Wales School for Social Prescribing Research (WSSPR) based at the University of South Wales, the research findings from the project will aim to uncover ‘what matters now’ to students and how universities can get the most out of their green spaces. 

The work leads on from research completed in 2020, where WGU was a pilot university that looked at transforming access to wellbeing support for students through the development of a sustainable and replicable approach to tackling wellbeing challenges grounded in social prescribing. 

The model was co-created with students and partners as part of a whole systems approach to wellbeing. After more than two years of disrupted learning due to the Covid-19 pandemic, students need support with their educational goals and mental health – hence the need for green health interventions, which can help reduce pressure on NHS services, including mental health support such as counselling. 

Lynda Powell, Executive Director of Operations at WGU and Nature-based Social Prescribing Project Lead, said: “This new research project aims to find out ‘what matters now’ to students and how universities can make the most out of their nature-based assets and green spaces, either on campus or in the community, to improve mental wellbeing outcomes and social connectedness. 

“Through the development of Green Social Prescribing practices, knowledge and skills, the project will deliver a framework for other higher education institutions in Wales which will support a low-cost, creative intervention to strengthen social networks, reduce stress, and facilitate social connectedness among participants and providers without the need for expensive investments. 

“By aligning student support services with green and nature-based community activities, we hope that we can move closer to creating more socially connected, physically active and resilient communities, and in turn, meeting our Civic Mission aims.”

Dr Sharon Wheeler, Senior Lecturer in Public Health and Wellbeing at WGU, who will be leading on the research project, added: “Engagement with green spaces and nature-based activities can be incredibly beneficial for physical, mental and social dimensions of health and wellbeing; as a researcher and lecturer, it is brilliant to be involved in a project which will look to harness these benefits for the student population.”

Funding for the project was awarded by Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW), as part of its Strategic Investment Fund. The project is a collaborative with staff from across the university working with a variety of local organisations such as Natural Resources Wales, Coleg Cambria, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, Flintshire Local Voluntary Council (FLVC), Groundwork North Wales and Wrexham County Borough Council.

The project is a direct response to the Welsh Government’s Renew and Reform education Covid recovery plan for community engagement and will finish later this year.