press release
Published: 14 May 2021

New family-friendly walking trail at Wakehurst to mark Mental Health Awareness Week

To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, Fuse Arts Collective, Wakehurst and the University of Surrey announce a new mindfulness walking trail set to open at Wakehurst.

Fuse Arts Collective have created First Contact, an interactive trail that will be installed at Wakehurst’s renowned botanic gardens from 29 May – 6 June. The trail is the result of a partnership between Fuse, Surrey and the app development company Despite the Monkey.  

Led by a specially designed app, visitors journeying through Wakehurst’s woodlands and gardens will encounter a series of three trees, each accompanied by a sculpted figure representing a person experiencing poor mental health.  

As they meet each figure, visitors are encouraged to reflect on how to reach out to someone in need of support and the lasting impact of that first interaction. Their thoughts, messages and questions can be shared and recorded in different ways at each tree, from leaving voice messages, to sending digital text messages through the bespoke app, or even handwriting notes. The unique blend of technology, soundscapes and visual art creates a family-friendly, sensory trail and offers an accessible way to consider what it may feel or sound like to be coping with mental health challenges.  

Lorraine Lecourtois, Head of Public Programmes at Wakehurst, said: 

"We’re delighted to be working with Fuse Arts Collective to bring this important installation to our visitors. The natural environment can have an immensely positive impact on our mental health and wellbeing, and over the past year we’ve seen many people come to view Wakehurst’s rich landscape as a place of solace. It’s important for us to use our platform to talk about mental health and we believe First Contact is a creative and immersive way of engaging people with these conversations in our wild botanic garden.” 

First Contact also offers the opportunity for visitors to contribute to a significant new study developed by Dr Paul Hanna of the University of Surrey. Analysing the ways people engage with the installation and their overall impression of the experience, the study forms the foundation for a major evaluation project into attitudes to mental health. Those who wish to participate further will be invited to take part in a more in-depth survey at the end of the installation. 

Dr Paul Hanna, Clinical Psychology Research Director at University of Surrey, said: 

“Mental health communication is central to breaking down some of the boundaries created through mental health stigma and discrimination in society. However, what is also crucial in mental health communication is the way the individual speaking out is heard and received. First Contact offers meaningful interaction to its audience in relation to these two issues and I am privileged to once again work alongside the creative team that brought you Blackout.”  

Mig Burgess, Director of Fuse Arts Collective and Senior Teaching Fellow at University of Surrey, said:  

“I am excited to once again be working on a creative research project with Dr Paul Hanna. We have combined the power and impact of production design techniques with research in social science to forge this innovative interactive walking trail for Mental Health Awareness Week.  First Contact was designed and conceived to break down barriers around the topic of mental health and get us all feeling more comfortable talking to one another about it.  I hope the audience enjoy the experience -- but also find it rewarding to play a bigger part in helping us to evaluate this topic to better understand attitudes towards mental wellbeing.” 

First Contact is funded by Arts Council England and is supported by the Mental Health Foundation. Visitors can donate to the Mental Health Foundation during the visit or via the app. The bespoke First Contact app will be available to download from 21 May from the Apple App Store and Google Play. 

Tickets are available now.

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