Voting in the 2020 Leader Programme grand finale in which a number of Munster projects including a forest bathing initiative have cemented their place among the best, will conclude on Monday.
Anyone who believes their local Leader endeavours have changed the lives of those around for the better can vote up to 6pm on Monday, November 23.
The initiative ‘Celebrating the impact of Leader on Rural Communities’ focuses on telling the story of how the 2014-2020 Leader programme impacted rural enterprises, organisations, communities and local environments.
Run in conjunction with the National Rural Network (NRN), the campaign’s aim is to celebrate the richness of the programme, which has been in operation in Ireland since 1991, and to ascertain how positive change has impacted the lives of rural people.
One of the finalists is Wellness Tourism & Forest Bathing Training in West Cork, a Leader-funded Forest Bathing Training Course for Guides, offering Forest Bathing tours that allow people to reconnect with nature and its health benefits.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Grainne Bagnall said the business is now celebrating its first year in forest bathing, which is a mindful-guided practice that takes place in wooded or garden areas.
In Japan, where the practice originated in the early 1980s, they call it ‘Shinrin-yoku’ or forest medicine, and it’s all about restoring the self through mindful contact with trees.
Despite Covid-19, the initiative is gathering momentum in Cork; so much so, in fact, that Grainne has set up virtual forest bathing tours incorporating some of the best forests in the region.
“Forest bathing is about opening up the senses to nature,” added Grainne.
“We run two-hour trails in a local forest and participants are guided by the forest bathing guide to awaken the five core senses, sight, smell, taste, hearing and feeling.
“Throughout the two-hour practice, there is a lot of silence, invitations to awaken the senses at various different stages, and the wellness and benefits of that are then shared.” Pre-Covid-19 tours with around 15 people per event were taking place each day with people travelling from all over the world to experience the very best Co Cork had to offer in forest bathing.
The numbers participating now are less because of social distancing measures and Level 5 restrictions.
“We had plans to have a big launch in March, but the pandemic brought that to an end for the time being,” Grainne continued.
“The experience has now been downsized to between six and eight because of Level 5 restrictions, but when that is lifted we will be able to provide for up to 15 people again.
“They will be able to participate and enjoy the experience of being in the great outdoors and connecting with nature through forest bathing.”
Also in the ‘Celebrating the impact of Leader on Rural Communities’ final is the Forge Project, Churchill, Co Kerry, where the Spa Fenit Community Council acquired a derelict forge and used Leader funding to restore the building to maintain the area’s connection with forging.
Another finalist is Kanturk Mart, which used Leader funds to develop 57 additional car parking spaces to provide ample parking facilities for those working and shopping in the town as well as visiting the mart.
Another finalist is the Digital & Tools Upgrade of Irish Seed Savers Association, Scariff, Co Clare, dedicated to the preservation of traditional native seed.
And Leahy’s Farm, Midleton, Cork, one of the biggest tourist attractions in East Cork, is a finalist for its Leader-funded project to upgrade their ice cream and chocolate making equipment.
Miltown Malbay Community Centre in Co Clare made it to the finals. Having fallen into a state of disrepair, the community centre was revitalised by the local community through Leader funding, making it more user friendly to the wide range of groups in the area.
Three winners will be decided via a public vote. Winners can have their project publicised in local media, nationally and internationally, and will also receive One for All Vouchers to the value of €200.
All votes must be verified by email, and voting requires you to become a member of the NRN. Membership is free.