Support in Mind Scotland has just completed a community-based wellbeing project called Highlands & Islands Connections. Building on a previous research project, this initiative was all about exploring how to strengthen community connections so to make a positive difference to the mental well-being of people living in rural areas.

The project was funded through the Scottish Government’s Aspiring Communities Fund with support from the European Social Fund. The two pilot locations were The Uists and Benbecula and the Isle of Mull.

Each pilot area was supported by an Area Project Team and the overall the rural initiative continues to be coordinated by Ros Halley, Highlands & Islands Community Connections Manager.

Each pilot location tested out a different approach to developing a ‘community of care’. In the Uists and Benbecula the focus was on developing links between existing organisations and improving communications across the rural area. On the Isle of Mull, the focus was on exploring different ways that businesses and organisations could engage with employees and volunteers to improve community connections and improve mental wellbeing.

The project impacted locally in each area by directly encouraging people to participate in community life, whilst proactively working at community level to challenge stigma, increase awareness of mental health and wellbeing, and develop an awareness of community spaces or activities that are open, accepting and community-led.

The highlights of this short project included bringing additional mental health training to communities in both areas, developing specific promotional materials for local events and community info ‘hubs’, creating networking opportunities for groups, establishing ‘blether benches’ and creating an Website and App. Click here to visit the De tha Dol site.

The team worked directly with various local partners in each area to ensure that the local community was part of the ‘solution’ and set out to capture ideas and good practice by making a film about the community role in mental wellbeing.

It is hoped that the project will be a catalyst for change by creating a conversation about the role the community when it comes to improving lives in rural areas. Within a short time period, the project has shown that additional and affordable mental health support and resources can be established, even in the most remote areas of Scotland.

The project has illustrated the importance of community resources and how these valuable assets contribute to achieving mental wellbeing. The people who have participated in this project have shown how the community can help create conditions for change and how it is possible for people with a lived experience of mental ill-health to help the wider community to create a better place for everyone.

By documenting the project, it is hoped that similar actions may be able to be rolled out in other locations and that the evidence gathered will be able to be used to guide future mental wellbeing initiatives and rural policy. This project has shown the potential of building more caring, connected communities.

For more information please contact Ros Halley Highlands & Islands Connections Manager on [email protected]