Kirsty Cumming: We are all responsible for looking after our own wellbeing, but sometimes we need a helping hand

Bookbug sessions are popular at libraries
Bookbug sessions are popular at libraries
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We are all becoming more aware of our mental health and wellbeing. The increasing recognition of the importance of wellbeing for individuals and for those around us has fuelled far more open discussions around mental health.

We need to recognise that everyone has mental, as well as physical health, and similarly, we can all go through good and bad periods. But how we look after our mental health often remains unanswered for many

The New Economics Foundation sets out five actions to improve personal wellbeing: connect; be active; take notice; learn; and give. By implementing these steps into our daily lives, we can help to maximise our mental wellbeing. These values are embedded across Community Leisure Scotland members, which are local charitable leisure trusts providing sport, leisure and cultural facilities and services to their local communities.

Of course, even with the best of intentions, implementing these actions into our daily lives is often easier said than done, particularly when it feels like we don’t have any ‘me time’ and just getting through the day can be a struggle. That is why Community Leisure Scotland are proud to be working closely with SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health) and other partners, to develop Scotland’s first Mental Health Charter for Sport and Physical Activity. The Charter aims to encourage participation in physical activity and sport as a way to maintain and improve mental health and wellbeing. It supports organisations at all levels to talk about mental health and wellbeing and to recognise and be supportive of the needs of all members of the community, and we are delighted that many of our members across Scotland have signed up and actively support the mental health of their local community.

Undoubtedly, having a charter is an exciting development and a positive step, signalling positive ambition and direction for the future. However, it must go beyond this, with the aims and ambitions being embedded into organisations across Scotland to affect real change and slowly begin to tackle some of the barriers to physical activity. Evidence shows that being physically active is good for us, but by seeking to understand the barriers and tackle these, we can collectively create a range of opportunities to support people who may find that their mental health is a barrier for them. It is incredibly exciting that over 150 organisations have chosen to sign up to the charter, and by doing so, recognise the role that they can play.

Being physically active is, however, just one part of the jigsaw in improving our mental wellbeing. Being mentally active, learning and engaging are also powerful tools in order to maintain good mental health. There is increasing awareness of the role of other community and cultural assets in contributing to this agenda, with innovative projects such as Books on Prescription, delivered by Fife Cultural Trust in partnership with NHS Fife. This project provides easy access to books for patients and their families, across a range of subjects, with experts on hand to advise and support. Libraries in many communities have evolved from traditionally silent reading spaces into thriving community hubs, with bookbug sessions, computer classes and even now co-working spaces available.

Whether we choose to be physically active, or to use our local public services, such as libraries, connecting with others around us in some way is essential. Loneliness and social isolation are increasingly prevalent in societies across Scotland, and so Community Leisure Scotland 
welcome the Scottish Government’s recently published strategy for a more connected Scotland. 
As organisations focused on delivering public services for public benefit, Community Leisure Scotland members are ideally positioned to support the Scottish Government’s aims around social isolation and loneliness, and to engage with their local communities in providing opportunities to improve their physical and mental wellbeing.

There is a great example with High Life Highland’s You Time programme, offering activities across the Highlands for older people through leisure, libraries and archive services, and an outreach programme connecting rural areas.

We all have a responsibility to look after our own wellbeing, but sometimes we just need a helping hand. Community Leisure Scotland members’ focus is on delivering quality services, bespoke to the needs of their local communities, with every pound generated reinvested into delivering and supporting services for those most in need. There has never been a better time to get to know your local trust and find out what they have to offer.

Kirsty Cumming, Community Leisure Scotland Engagement and Policy Manager