How nature can benefit your mental health
By Debbie Frances,
Words by Katie Carr: My brother Toby Carr (CF2018), lived for a little under four years after receiving his Churchill Fellowship award, but thanks to the boost the Fellowship gave him, they were the best years of his life.
"I remember the first time he mentioned applying for the Fellowship, his eyes glistened as he recounted its history and the slogan used at that time “Travel to learn, return to inspire” stuck with me."
It wasn’t so much about the financial support, but more the feeling that such a prestigious institution believed in his mad idea. The journey of that mad idea is now told in our book, Moderate Becoming Good Later.
I remember the first time he mentioned applying for the Fellowship, his eyes glistened as he recounted its history and the slogan used at that time “Travel to Learn, Return to Inspire” stuck with me. At the end of 2017, Toby was angling for an adventure, we’d just lost our brother Marcus to cancer caused by the rare genetic disease they both shared, and although he never mentioned it, Toby must have known he was next. So, he put a plan into action; he would attempt to sea kayak in all areas of the Shipping Forecast, the BBC Radio broadcast of weather reports and forecasts for the seas around the British Isles, an important influence on us when we were growing up.
"He’d learnt first-hand how active engagement with outdoor environments and physical challenges can help overcome personal adversity and wanted to explore this further."
Toby had started sea kayaking five years earlier following our Dad’s death and while recovering from early-stage mouth cancer. In that time, it had swept him out of his central London architects’ studio to the wild and beautiful coasts of the UK with a diverse group of friends. He’d learnt first-hand how active engagement with outdoor environments and physical challenges can help overcome personal adversity and wanted to explore this further.
Not sure that this was enough for the Fellowship, Toby applied anyway. Hospitalisation for meningitis almost cost him his interview, but a few days past Valentine’s Day in 2018, Toby received the news that he’d been selected. “Uh oh, I have to do it now!” he wrote in a WhatsApp message to me before calling to transmit his excitement and promptly finding a local purveyor of Pol Roger, Churchill’s favorite champagne.
From there things moved fast. He would start in Southeast Iceland (where the Shipping Forecast ends) and complete Faeroes, North Utsire, South Utsire, Fisher, German Bight and Humber that summer. Leaving the rest for later expeditions which he completed in the two subsequent years. He proudly stuck branded 'Churchill Fellowship' stickers on his kayak and paddles and listened to advice from Fellowship communication experts and other Fellows in how to record his journey as effectively as possible.
He took this seriously. Using storm bound days in his green tent to catch up on notes about the previous week’s challenging kayaking around the Faroe Islands or windy mornings on sandy Danish beaches to record the details of his latest surfy landing. But it wasn’t really about kayaking, an exquisite observation of nature and a love of human connection shine through Toby’s notes. And if one thing was certain, it was that he wanted to tell his story.
In November 2021, he signed a publishing contract with Summersdale Publishers, based on a book proposal for Moderate Becoming Good Later and three chapters of the book. By this time, he was too ill to write. Tidying out his house a week after his death, I found handwritten notebooks carefully describing his observations and impressions, voice notes where he marvelled at nature, photos that helped me identify exactly where he was, and all his social media posts and his final report made in fulfillment of the “return to inspire” part of the deal. It is from all this that I was able to write the book.
So, now I’ve got a bottle of Pol Roger in my fridge waiting to be opened when the book is launched on publication day 8 June (also World Ocean Day), and I too will raise my glass to the Churchill Fellowship in gratitude.
Find out more about Moderate Becoming Good Later.
The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.
By Debbie Frances,
By Rory Weal,
By Hannah Norman,