In early September 2016, some of the Network of Wellbeing team went to Wellbeing 2016 in Birmingham. This blog post is written by the conference founder, Richard Coles, who shares what inspired the event and how it went from an idea to reality.

Some 25 years ago we looked at how individuals express their relationship with the environment and were struck with the eloquence of the language used and the ways in which visiting special places formed a key part of a life strategy; unwinding after work, keeping chilled out in the face of unemployment, little children and their play families holding tea parties on their local green space. This user-based approach marked a relaxation from a hard and strictly participant/researcher relationship to one where we sought the views of the individual, realising that qualitative approaches, especially those based on art and design thinking, held much power and promise.

Moving onto the present, these initial ideas remain true, the power of natural spaces has been fully confirmed and we now talk about supporting wellbeing through landscape and other interventions. Ideas have morphed into a different ‘supporting wellbeing’ scenario, embracing the fact that wellbeing investigation crosses all disciplines, practitioner and academic divides.

Wellbeing 2016: Bringing people together

From this context and based on our strong interest in investigating the multi-dimensions of wellbeing, we decided to instigate a series of international wellbeing conferences in 2011. The third of these wellbeing conferences was held in early September 2016, and attracted delegates from across Europe, Australia, Japan, Canada, USA, and New Zealand as well as the UK.

The formula that we adopted was to bring different disciplines together, provide a platform for practitioner-academic dialogue, bring in some experts from a range of fields in the form of keynote speakers, offer lots of breakout sessions and a good quality venue where we could encourage delegates to experience and engage with different ideas.

The first conference was marked by a fire alarm, but everyone was so chilled it made little difference. For the second conference we responded to a request for more interactive workshops; ‘knitting for wellbeing’ was one of my favourites. We also introduced more creativity through the community poet ChrisJam who had impressed me some months before at another research conference I attended, at which he nicely sidetracked the formality through the eloquent use of prose!

All of these different aspects came together again at Wellbeing 2016 this year, through the same formula of workshops, papers, posters, keynotes and ChrisJam the conference poet, with clear instructions to chill out and feel the flow. Judging by the audience’s responses, they did and they got a lot more out of the conference as a result.

Working together to support new approaches

We find ourselves in a situation where there is a large body of work focused on wellbeing that is embracing new approaches to understanding and supporting the individual’s wellbeing within a shifting wider context. This is a situation where the individual has choice in adopting or developing a personal health and wellbeing plan. Assisted by others (through co-creation) these types of plans can empower people with the knowledge, control, choice and opportunity to pursue their own wellbeing. It might involve regular walking in a quality local environment, as indicated in the green Gym and Walking on Prescription, or it may advance to ‘Dancing in Nature’ or ‘Singing for Wellbeing’ (both of which were workshops at Wellbeing 2016).  It is also likely to be supported by assistive technologies that identify the opportunities, link you to like-minded individuals or show you the location of the best green places to chill out.

There is much good work, ideas and enthusiasm out there, furthering the broader understanding of the critical need to ensure that opportunities to maximise or support wellbeing are integrated into the everyday; let’s continue the dialogue.

About Richard Coles

Richard Coles is Professor of Urban Landscape and Environmental Interaction in the School of Architecture and Design, based in the Faculty of the Arts, Design and Media, Birmingham City University, UK.  His research involves understanding the development of environments that are supportive to wellbeing, founded on a conventional scientific training highly influence by working in an arts and design faculty and a childhood based on many hours spent in suburban green spaces.

To find out more about Wellbeing 2016 in Birmingham click here

To read a review of the Network of Wellbeing workshop at Wellbeing 2016 in Birmingham click here

Pictures in this post shared with thanks to Birmingham City University.