Argyll and Bute Hospital provides acute admissions and various mental health and psychotherapy services. The hospital joined the NHS Forest in 2010 following the creation of their Blarbuie project.
The creation of a community Woodland Enterprise
Argyll and Bute Hospital was founded in the Victorian era. At that time, such health care provision – usually in rural environments – was commonly called an ‘asylum’, literally meaning refuge or place of safety and tranquility. The woods around the hospital were created with this in mind, and along with farm and gardens were part of the outdoor resource for work and recreation.
Over the years, much of this resource was lost, the hospital changed, and the woods became inaccessible and dangerous. But they still contained trees from all over the world, as well as native trees such as ash and Scots pine. There was ground cover of heather and wildflowers, there were red squirrels, bats and birds, and the site offered views over loch, sea, hills and islands.
In 2002 a number of people came up with ideas to restore and enhance the woods for environmental, community and health benefits. A partnership was formed between Reforesting Scotland, Argyll Green Woodworkers Association, NHS, Scottish Association for Mental Health, and Lochgilphead Community Council. Extensive research, consultation, and appraisal was carried out, followed by detailed planning and fundraising.
The vision was that Blarbuie Woodland would be for the benefit of people who use health and social services in Mid Argyll and beyond, plus all people, young and old, living in or visiting the area. Community participation was recognised as the key to protecting the woods, making them accessible to everyone and creating opportunities for people to learn about plants and wildlife, and local history.
Right from the beginning there was a lot of work to be done, restoring and enhancing the two main strips of woodland – the Low Wood and the High Wood. Groups worked on paths, on woodland management, on timber construction, on signage and on environmental education. As part of this work, the project offered supervised training and voluntary opportunities. Right from the start, the project helped people to gain in health and happiness, knowledge and skills.