One of, if the not the only good thing to come out of the recent pandemic is that people, due to Covid restrictions on travel and the number of people being able to meet indoors, have discovered that being an active part of their natural, local environment and surroundings is beneficial to their physical and mental health and overall personal wellbeing.

Being active and involved in outdoor activities of almost any type has now been well established as a means to maintain and improve one’s mood, reduce the onset of depression, stress, anxiety, anger and the adverse effects they have on our physical health, as well as improve our self-esteem and over all wellbeing. And you don’t have to be out in the great outdoors running a marathon, entering the Chelsea Flower Show or pretending to be Bear Grylls to benefit from the great outdoors.

The effects of being outdoors on one’s health and wellbeing was something not lost on the staff of the Leavesden Asylum/Hospital when they allocated and designed more than 20 acres of the 85-acre site to outdoor activities such as tending the numerous flower gardens, being part of the farm operation, caring for the animals, participating in various organised sporting activities, socialising with others or just having a quiet place for both patients and staff to take in the sunshine and scenery. Today, this is being promoted as ecotherapy.

Watford Observer:

The Victorian steam powered carousel at the Leavesden Hospital Fete in 1937. Picture: Leavesden Hospital History Association

Along with the many outdoor activities organised by the recreation staff of the hospital on a daily basis, the annual sports day and fête was the one most anticipated by staff and patients and which was open to residents of the local communities who attended in their hundreds every year it was held starting back in the 1900s, if not earlier.

The event, which was held in the grounds on the east side of the main hospital site, where Harlech Road is now, opened with a procession of local marching bands followed by such groups as the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, with patients and staff bringing up the rear of the parade, decked out in their colourful carnival costumes and showing off the various handmade floats they had spent a good part of the year preparing. The travelling carnival would pitch up with such amusement park rides as a steam powered carousel, massive wooden swings, slides and games of skill and chance, none of which would pass the health and safety standards of today. Traditional athletic challenges such as the sack race were also part of the day-long event, with live performances from local theatre troupes and musicians. All departments within the hospital came together to decorate the site, bringing a real festival feel to the day.

Watford Observer:

Leavesden Hospital staff members Mary Dalton and Anne South enjoy all the fun of the fair during the hospital’s 100th anniversary celebrations in 1970. Photo: Leavesden Hospital History Association

The activities and attendees of the hospital's sports day and fete were captured in a rare film made in 1937 and discovered in the Hertfordshire Partnership Foundation Trust Library in 2018. It can be viewed by going to the Leavesden Hospital History Association YouTube channel.

The Watford-based Dan Tien school of dance brought music, dance and outdoor activity back to Leavesden Country Park recently when they choose the site as the location for their filming of a music video. Dan Tien provides instruction in all areas of the performing arts but was struggling to find an outdoor location to film the video within the Covid restrictions.

The dance group, led by company directors and former professional dancers Nick and Amy Lazzerini, put the young dancers through their routines while director Ian Port, from Think About It Films, utilised many of the locations in the park to capture the movement of the dancers in an outdoor setting.

Watford Observer:

Dancers from the Dan Tien school of dance get ready to perform in front of the camera. Picture: Martin T Brooks

Amy specifically wanted to use the park as a location, explaining: “We are all local and love the park. We had the idea of the park because it is so lovely to be in and has such interesting sculptures and history. We didn’t realise that we were going to use them so much, but it worked really well. Performing in front of the camera is a vital skill but not one that these students had had much practice doing so this gave them the opportunity to learn a new skill which they can take on to their future training.”

Hopefully, the future will see another large event being staged in the park so we can all share in the benefits of some time together in the outdoors.