Our final story this Mental Health Awareness Week comes from our very own Nick Self – project officer on the Wellbeing Programme and warden of Morgan’s Hill nature reserve. In his story he tells us how fortunate he feels to be working for Wiltshire Wildlife Trust; but it’s also the Wellbeing Programme that is fortunate to have someone so passionate about wildlife and conservation and who also has the personal experience of dealing with mental health issues.

Nick's story: My path to wellbeing

When the Trust started running the Wellbeing Programme in 2008, it seemed to some that this was a departure from what a wildlife trust should be about. Although the programme's focus has changed over the years, it essentially offers therapy through nature for people struggling with mental health issues by providing a mix of conservation work, wildlife walks and nature-based crafts; all the activities are designed to help participants improve their mental health whilst being part of a supportive and purposeful group.

As a wildlife and environmental charity we often talk of sustainability, referring to our natural surroundings and the impact people have on them. But as Nick Self, Wellbeing Project Officer, often says, sustainability can refer to people as well; after all, it's through working with people and by enthusing them about wildlife and environmental issues that we will create a society that believes it's vital to safeguard our natural environment for future generations.

Nick's path to the Trust and the Wellbeing Programme was both circuitous and serendipitous. Leaving school at 16, he took a job with a local engineering firm. He didn't find it particularly exciting nor rewarding but was there for a number of years until his personal situation changed and he found that he could no longer combine work with his caring responsibilities.

It was only when his situation started to improve that he decided he could return to work. He knew he didn't want to go back to engineering, so he sought careers advice. As it turned out, it was a computer that told him what he would be good at. The advisor typed in all the things Nick enjoyed doing and was interested in, and what came up was 'working for an environmental charity'.

Armed with this knowledge, Nick applied for volunteering positions and a week later was working with the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV, now TCV). Through his work with BTCV he got to know Tony Coultiss, the warden of Wiltshire Wildlife Trust's nature reserve Morgan's Hill near Calne, and not long after, when Tony retired from his duties, Nick stepped in to fulfil the role.

It was on one of his outings to Morgan's Hill that Nick bumped into the Trust’s Wellbeing Project Officer Tim Kaye. They got chatting and Tim ended up offering Nick the role of Volunteer Support Officer on his wellbeing group. A few years later, when Tim and Bisi, the other Wellbeing Project Officer, left their roles to pursue other interests, Nick was the obvious choice to fill their shoes.

"Ten years ago, I couldn't have dreamt this would happen to me," he says. "I've always loved being outside. When I was a young boy I spent a lot of time with my dad going on walks and birdwatching. I never realised that this could lead to a paid job!"

"The by-product of working outdoors, first with BTCV and then the Trust, is that my own mental wellbeing improved. Being outside and helping others makes me feel good about myself. My personal experience has also given me an insight into what participants are going through, and I feel better able to understand and help them with their struggles."

Nick feels very fortunate and says, "I love what I do. I love conservation, working with people and working for the Trust. I know now that I am good at what I do. The Trust gave me this amazing opportunity, and through my work I now want to give the same opportunities to others."

Get in touch

Nick leads wellbeing groups in Swindon and Wiltshire. If you feel you would benefit from joining the programme, or know someone who might benefit, please get in touch with us. Call the office on 01380 736098 or email us for more information.