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Green Escapism: Introducing NatureSoc

Annabel Mulliner speaks to NatureSoc President Catherine Gilman about the positive effects of nature on students' mental wellbeing.

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Image Credit: Romain Mathon

Though eco-friendly living can be difficult as a student, there are few better places for it than York – after all, we were recently crowned the UK’s greenest city. At the University, we already host several excellent eco-friendly societies from VegSoc to GardeningSoc, but now there is a new kid on the block: NatureSoc.

The seeds for NatureSoc were sown during lockdown when their President Catherine Gilman realised there were no societies specifically catering to sustainable, natural self-care – specifically health and beauty. The society was founded on the team’s complementary interests. “Nastasia, our secretary, is really passionate about cooking and the mind-gut relationship, and she talked to me at length about how the food we eat directly impacts our health, wellbeing, and happiness and I found this really interesting”, Catherine explains.

“I thought because most of the time superfoods are normally 100% natural it would be beneficial to educate and encourage others to adopt this lifestyle to try and be as healthy and happy as they can be”. Meanwhile, Catherine’s own interests lie with the cultural side of nature. “It worked really well to have all of our interests together to start this society”.

Catherine’s passion for nature began at home, in the Peak District. “We are always surrounded by nature, so I gained an appreciation for everything natural when I began to embrace my hometown a bit more”. Her dad has been a particularly big influence, passing on herbal remedies from wartime through his grandmother. “They had to use the land and be resourceful – I learned about dandelion coffee, what to forage, what is dangerous to eat, and how the Victorians and Edwardians farmed”.

This led to a personal exploration of Ancient Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine, both of which emphasise nature and a holistic approach to health. She hopes NatureSoc will become a platform to teach other students of the benefits; with immunity being a hot topic ahead of a return to campus amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, these natural approaches could bring greater peace of mind. “Whilst I don’t promote these remedies over going to a doctor if there is an issue, it is nice to know how and why mint tea can be used for nausea and the benefits of green tea. I hope that if people are interested then they can look more into these things”.

The new government restrictions pose a challenge to all society events, but Catherine hopes NatureSoc will still be able to interact with new members by sharing information online. ”We would like to create a community in which you can de-stress and take a step back from the world and technology”. Stepping back from the screen may be a challenge with the current limitations on face-to-face gatherings, but Catherine hopes the tips and tricks the committee share will help members to find space and time for self-care, and to save money: “in terms of positive effects on the community, we want to ensure that people can save money on skincare and reach for ethically made products”.

Buying ethical products on a budget can be challenging, but it’s highly rewarding and with the right know-how, it can be made inexpensive. I can personally vouch for the fact that natural products can be a lifesaver in the harsh York winter; doing away with harsh supermarket soaps saved my skin from winter eczema. “Often the products we buy from the beauty industry exploit their workers to get ingredients and can contribute to deforestation. It may be as simple as using a shampoo bar that you can make instead of buying a bottle that often can’t be recycled. It's about being as sustainable and resourceful as we can be,” Catherine explains. She hopes that NatureSoc will be able to provide an alternative method of ethical consumerism, through buying bulk ingredients to provide to members at a cheaper price. Craft events to make items such as lavender bags, bath bombs, and soaps will arm members with new ways of saving money, as well as being good stress busters.

The shift to online learning, as shown last term, presents students with a host of challenges for our mental wellbeing. Whether you are studying in York next term, or from home, it’s likely that you will be seeing more of your bedroom walls than you’d like. The stresses of a pandemic on top of the daily struggles of being a student are a lot to cope with, so it is crucial that we all find ways to unwind.

Though social distancing guidelines are subject to rapid change, NatureSoc has a range of relaxing events that they hope to put on next term, including a Halloween Fair with VegSoc involving a scavenger hunt and pumpkin carving. With outdoor events being a safer bet, a foraging event and nature walk may also be on the cards. NatureSoc has also planned a Christmas Craft Fair with FeministSoc on the 25th of November; though, of course, only time will tell what capacity this will be in. “When restrictions do relax, we’d love to do trips around Yorkshire, wildflower art classes, and classes making face masks and body butter amongst other things,” Catherine tells me. “Our main priority at the moment, though, is to ensure that everyone is safe”.

During lockdown, of course, one of the few freedoms we were afforded was a thirty-minute walk. The benefits of being outdoors in nature cannot be underestimated, and NatureSoc is particularly invested in providing its members with an escape from any anxieties they might be facing. “The relationship humans have with nature is so important, it's strange that we often see each other as separate, and this society is to foster that relationship we have with both nature and with ourselves, to mutual benefit. Sometimes it is important to switch off and get in tune with our surroundings”.

If you would like to get involved with NatureSoc ahead of next term, you can follow their Instagram (@uoy_nature_society), join their mailing list, and catch them at Freshers’ Fair, both online and in person.

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