Prof. Jason Davies & Mark McKenna, MBE

Down to Earth: Using sustainable construction and the outdoors to foster change in well-being and mental health


Interest in the use of ‘nature based’ and ‘green-care’ approaches for facilitating change in wellbeing and mental health is growing rapidly.  At a population level, the Well-being of Future Generations Act (Wales) 2015 embeds Sustainable Development alongside a Well-being Duty for public bodies in Wales, whilst the Trauma and ACES Hub Wales and Trauma Informed Wales Framework seek to tackle, present and mitigate adversity and trauma. Thus finding new and innovative ways that can complement current approaches to promoting well-being and mental health is essential to achieving these goals.

In this presentation, we will provide an overview of the approach to green-care through sustainable construction pioneered by Down to Earth.  This approach has sustainable development, well-being and tackling adversity at its heart.   Through a variety of projects across South Wales, Down to Earth provides structured opportunities for individuals and groups to work on constructing built resources using traditional methods and materials.   Down to Earth works directly with individuals who have complex needs and find themselves excluded, marginalised or unable to access other services.  These include young people not in education, employment or training (NEET), individuals receiving physical or mental health care from statutory services and those from overseas seeking asylum from persecution.  Onto this overview and context of Down to Earth, we will detail the evidence for this approach gathered through more than 10 years of clinical research.   This will include outlining the development and validation of an emoji based measure intended to make it easier to monitor change in wellbeing, social connection, common mental health difficulties and resilience over time.  Outcomes from groups including those from NEET backgrounds, those with physical and mental health difficulties and NHS staff will be presented and a recently developed Theory of Change that describes the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ (activities, outcomes and impacts) associated with Down to Earth will be described.  Finally we will consider how psychological/ psychotherapeutic frameworks can be layered onto the work that is led by those who are expert in working sustainably.   This will provide a psychological lens through which the changes observed might be understood by considering how social interaction and practical work using natural resources might align with common psychotherapy components associated with psychotherapy outcomes.   A tentative formulation based on the principles of a generic CAT map will be offered as a possible way to understand the ‘how’ of change associated with Down to Earth participation.


Jason Davies
Jason Davies is a Professor of Forensic and Clinical Psychology at Swansea University and a Consultant Forensic and Clinical Psychologist with Swansea Bay University Health Board.  He is a chartered clinical, forensic and coaching psychologist, Fellow of the British Psychological Society and Senior Fellow of AdvanceHE.  He is a member of the Ministry of Justice Correctional Service Advice and Accreditation Panel and the Research and Evaluation Lead for the Offender Personality Disorder Pathway in Wales.  As a practitioner he has worked and led services in high, medium, low and community forensic mental health settings as well as in criminal justice contexts.  He has published papers and book chapters on a range of forensic and clinical topics, an edited book (with Claire Nagi) entitled Individual Psychological Therapies in Forensic Settings: Research and Practice (2017) and an authored book entitled Supervision for Forensic Professionals (2016).  Jason has collaborated with the team at Down to Earth for over 10 years to help establish an evidence-base for the impacts of sustainable construction on wellbeing and health.  

Mark McKenna MBE
Mark McKenna is co-founder and CEO of Down to Earth, an award-winning group of social enterprises based on Gower, Swansea.  Working with marginalized and disadvantaged communities in south Wales, Mark has been developing inclusive approaches to health care and education through the medium of sustainable construction and sustainable land management since 2002.  Mark's degree and Masters at Swansea University informed Down to Earth's evidence-based way of working with on-going academic and clinical research underpinning their holistic, cross-sectoral approach.

Mark's background has blended the use of natural materials with renewable and off grid technologies in construction to bring about positive change in people's lives.  He is an advocate for community engagement, working with young people and adults from diverse backgrounds to tackle social and environmental inequality at the same time.  In October 2020, Mark was awarded an MBE for Services to Young People and Environment.


Ms Bami Adenipekun 

It’s good to talk, but can I trust you?


The uptake of therapy by people from ethnic minority backgrounds is very low compared to the white population in Western nations. Some of the factors responsible are cultural, rooted in shame, stigma, and secrecy. There’s a tendency in academic discourse to focus solely on these and therefore deem it difficult or nigh on impossible to reach people in these communities.

As an equity consultant who has had a lot of CAT therapy myself, I believe there’s another side to the issue which is rooted in building trust which takes time and effort especially on the therapeutic side.  This calls for better cultural awareness and understanding to prevent unhelpful assumptions. I will share the story of my therapy journey, highlight some of the initial impediments to trust given racial inequities that I face on a regular basis and how these were surmounted. Lessons that would help foster inclusion would then be shared which would usher CAT into new horizons of working with more diverse communities.


Bami Adenipekun is an author, patient advocate, equity consultant, researcher, speaker and non-executive board member. She is also the founder of Inspired To Soar, an equity and wellbeing consultancy based in South Wales.

With an acquaintanceship of cancer over 33 years, she has been a loved one, caregiver and patient herself. This has given her unique insights into the experiences of those who use healthcare services. Combining a love of research with the passion to make a difference especially with regards to equity, she became a visiting lecturer at Cardiff University teaching the next generation of healthcare professionals on what inclusive, patient-centred care looks like in practice. She also delivers antiracism training and creates bespoke training for statutory and non-statutory organisations. She is a non-executive board member for Llais Cymru, Ambassador for Maggie’s Cancer Support Centres and Media Volunteer for Cancer Research UK.

She is the winner of: Outstanding Contribution Award (2022) the Ethnic Minority Welsh Women Achievement Association Award Winner in Science, Technology and Healthcare Category (2023).

She lives in Swansea with her fabulous daughter Amy.

Recommended reading / viewing:

The danger of a single story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


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