Rising from COVID-19 – By Sarah Sutter, CEO Nature Play SA

It’s the roller coaster ride we will never forget.

The last few months of COVID-19 have seen some incredible scary turns and some amazing highs for our organisation and me personally. I know we still have further to go, but believe the ride is starting to slow as we see a gradual lifting of restrictions and careful return to our lives.

COVID-19 has taught me many lessons. I believe one of the biggest things it has shown many of us, is the positive impact nature can have on our wellbeing.

Nature for Mental Health and Wellbeing

So many people I know are spending more time outside and it’s made such a difference to their state of mind.  We were fortunate in SA that National Parks weren’t off limits. In fact, I have never seen so many people and families immersing themselves in National Parks, walking on the beach, or just getting outside into open spaces. It’s also been reassuring to see the South Australian community following the social distancing guidelines.

For six years leading Nature Play SA, I have advocated for nature to be an essential part of our lives and the lives of our children. I think through this pandemic we, as a society, are beginning to realise more than ever the benefits to our wellbeing of time outside. Sometimes, as they say, you have to go through a crisis to realise what is important to you.

Fighting for Survival

COVID-19 has provided some sharp scary turns and, to be honest, at one stage we didn’t know whether Nature Play SA was going to survive. In one week, three quarters of my revenue was ripped away as our main income streams of education and events could not continue for public safety.

As a not-for-profit organisation the loss of that much revenue is enough to cripple us and essentially end the legacy of Nature Play SA.

With schools going online and no social gatherings what was I going to do? And to further compound these thoughts my teams’ livelihoods was in my hands. Like many SA business and other not-for-profits, I was scared and frightened facing the level of uncertainty and threats. That fear also rattled me as a mum and someone with vulnerable people in my life.

After many sleepless nights and endless walks on the beach, I knew I had to find a way out and turn this into a positive. The uncertainty and anxiousness in the SA Community was palpable – everything around us was being shut down and we knew that COVID-19 was a terrible disease.

I know the power of nature and how as a SA grassroots organisation we needed to help in a small way. The Nature Play SA team came up with the idea to produce an online guide to help families navigate this difficult time. I am proud to say after many endless nights and days we produced an free 84-page online guide Family, Nature and COVID-19, which was supported by Human Services SA.

The strong focus was on providing nature-inspired strategies to nurture the mental health and wellbeing of families. And as COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease, we know the content remains relevant and helpful for families as they move through challenges and the road to recovery.

Silver Linings

Personally, the highs from this roller-coaster has definitely been the precious family time we’ve had  together. We are a household that never stops, as we rush from work then drive the kids to their many sporting commitments which also includes coaching a team.

We have had time to go on bike rides and beach walks, play board games, and be present in each other’s lives more so than ever. We have planted a veggie garden and we are now eating our own home grown produce.

It has made me realise that we need to make sure the family quality time we are spending together is prioritised beyond  COVID-19.

Another high is I am so proud to be a South Australian.

As a state we have come together and worked as a team. We stayed home at Easter, home-schooled our children and we are doing awesome work social-distancing and washing our hands. We have had an amazing leader in Prof Nicola Spurrier who has always delivered her messages with clarity and positivity and re-assured us if we do the right things, we will get through this.

The Path Forward

So, when do we get off this roller-coaster?

No-one really knows. We are starting to see restrictions ease and I believe if we continue to keep working together and following the guidelines, we will get off this ride. I know when I do, I will look back and see the positives and learn from this chapter.

It is going to take time for life to get back to some sort of normality as we have all been impacted in some way and everyone will recover at different stages. I do know that professionally and personally, a big part of recovery for me, will be continuing to spend time outside and immersing ourselves in nature. And as for Nature Play SA, we will continue to support the SA community for as long as we are in existence.