Down to Earth: Swansea social enterprise championing wellbeing and learning through sustainable builds

Down to Earth, a Swansea-based social enterprise, is supporting local people to bring about positive change in their lives through sustainability and natural building.

Based on the Gower Peninsula, Down to Earth uses traditional and sustainable building methods to offer fully accessible and inclusive commercial construction projects to diverse community groups, particularly from ‘hard to reach’ and disadvantaged backgrounds.

Participants on Down to Earth’s training programmes have been involved in a variety of build projects – from outdoor classrooms, cob ovens, cob courtyard walls, to affordable social housing buildings – while learning eco-build techniques including timber framing, straw bale building, earth building, and dry stone walling.

The social enterprise works with around 500 people a year in an effort to reduce depression, isolation and tackle mental health issues. There is also the opportunity to gain qualifications in first aid, health and safety, carpentry and woodland management.

Being in nature promotes wellbeing, and Down to Earth utilises the outdoors to re-engage young people in education, personal development, collaboration, and sustainability.

The award-winning social enterprise’s approach to wellbeing and learning is having a positive impact on community members. A recent report by Swansea University found that the Down to Earth model is “as effective as anti-depressants – and without the side effects”.

Down to Earth said: “This remarkable approach transforms both the participants and the community involved in the project – whilst simultaneously creating stunning, sustainable buildings.

“Imagine tackling depression and anxiety on an Early Intervention in Psychosis programme through young people being outdoors and building a house with natural materials on an accredited training programme. Or imagine people with traumatic brain injuries receiving neuro-rehabilitation through sustainable woodland management and growing food organically. This is exactly how we work – doing meaningful, peer-based outdoor work which is carefully designed to have a rehabilitative impact.”

Down to Earth was founded by husband and wife team Mark and Jen McKenna back in 2005. The couple are former youth workers who are also passionate about sustainability, and see the project as a way of bringing both aspects together.

The social enterprise also offers adventure activities include tree climbing, coasteering, abseiling, rock climbing and kayaking. Their holistic approach means participants can also embrace the simple pleasures of picking home-grown fruit and vegetables and cooking on outdoor fire pits. Both of Down to Earth’s sites have smallholdings which are organically managed and include a herd of rare breed pigs.

Down to Earth

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyles including sustainable and green living. She also offers content services to businesses and individuals at Rosamedea.com

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