First Contact

Marking Mental Health Awareness Week 2021, Wakehurst announces new interactive installation, inviting visitors to connect with nature and reflect on how to help people experiencing mental health issues.

Release date: 21 May 2021

Saturday 29 May to Sunday 6 June 2021
10am – 5pm
Included in garden entry: adults £14.50; young person (17 - 25) £7.25; children (0 -16) free
Tickets available now
Wakehurst, Sussex

Kew’s wild botanic garden Wakehurst presents First Contact, a new multimedia installation from Fuse Arts Collective that examines attitudes to mental health. Led by a specially designed app, visitors journeying through Wakehurst’s woodlands and gardens will encounter a series of three trees, each accompanied by a sculpted figure representing a person experiencing poor mental health.

As they meet each figure, visitors are encouraged to reflect on how to reach out to someone in need and the lasting impact of that first interaction. Their thoughts, messages, and questions can be shared and recorded in different ways at each tree, from leaving voice messages, to sending digital text messages through the bespoke app, or even handwritten notes. The unique blend of technology, soundscapes, and visual art forms a family-friendly, sensory trail and offers an accessible way to consider what it may feel or sound like to be trying to cope with their own mental health.

Lorraine Lecourtois, Head of Public Programmes at Wakehurst says: "We’re delighted to be working with Fuse Arts Collective to bring this important installation to our visitors. The natural environment can have an immensely positive impact on our mental health and wellbeing, and over the past year we’ve seen many people come to view Wakehurst’s rich landscape as a place of solace. It’s important for us to use our platform to talk about mental health and believe First Contact forms a creative and immersive way of engaging people with these conversations in our wild botanic garden.”

First Contact also offers the opportunity for visitors to contribute to a new significant study developed by Dr Paul Hanna and the University of Surrey. Analysing the ways people engage with the installation and their overall impression of the experience, the study forms the foundation for a major evaluation project into attitudes to mental health. Those who wish to participate further will be invited to take part in a more in-depth survey at the end of the installation.

Dr Paul Hanna, Clinical Psychology Research Director at University of Surrey says: “Mental health communication is central to breaking down some of the boundaries created through mental health sigma and discrimination in society. However, what is also crucial in mental health communication is the way in which the individual speaking out is received. First Contact offers an interactive interaction to its audience in relation to these two issues and I am privileged to once again work alongside the creative team that brought you Blackout.”

Mig Burgess, Director of Fuse Arts Collective and Senior Teaching Fellow at University of Surrey says: “I am excited to once again be working on a creative research project with Dr Paul Hanna. We have combined the power and impact of production design techniques with research in the social science field to forge this innovative interactive walking trail for Mental Health Awareness Week.  First Contact was designed and conceived to break down barriers around the topic of mental health and get us all feeling more comfortable talking to one another about it.  I hope the audience enjoy the experience but also enjoy playing a bigger part of helping us to evaluate this topic to help better understand attitudes towards mental wellbeing.”

First Contact is funded by Arts Council England and is supported by the Mental Health Foundation. Visitors can donate to the Mental Health Foundation during the visit or via the app. The bespoke First Contact app will be available to download from 21 May from the Apple App Store and Google Play.

May half-term: Roam Free!

In addition to First Contact, Wakehurst invites families to get outside together and experience a jam-packed programme of interactive workshops and feel-good fun, all set in the natural surrounds of its spectacular wild botanic garden. 

Families can escape into nature together with the Feel-good challenge, a new mindfulness trail perfect for curious minds of all ages to discover more about the soothing power of the natural world. Panels planted along the trail encourage participants to try mindful exercises including sky-watching, yoga, and getting up-close with nature as they weave through the beautiful landscape. 

Hosted by qualified music therapists, the Sound baths, noise and plant percussions interactive workshop will have children exploring the immense benefits of sound on their wellbeing. From listening out for sounds deep in the garden on silent nature walks, to immersing themselves in the therapeutic sounds of gongs, singing bowls and rain sticks, the 90-minute session offers a myriad of fun and inspiring activities for children to enjoy. 

Feel-good challenge: Suitable for all ages | Daily, 10.00 – 17.00 | Included with garden entry. 

Sound baths, noise and plant percussions: 8 years+ Monday to Friday, 10.30 – 12.00 / 13.30 – 15.00 | 12 years+ Wednesday 13.30 – 15.00 | £22 per child. 


  • For interview and image requests, please contact Frances Teehan, Strategic Communications Manager at Wakehurst:
  • For more information on Mental Health Awareness Week and Mental Health Foundation, please contact Fran Edwards, Media Manager at the Mental Health Foundation:
  • For more information on Dr Paul Hanna and University of Surrey’s study, please contact Jolene Dyke, External Communications & PR Officer: / 07929 050031

Notes to Editors

Please note that Wakehurst is referred to just as Wakehurst, not Wakehurst Place. It is not a National Trust property.

About Wakehurst

Wakehurst, Kew’s wild botanic garden in Sussex is home to the Millennium Seed Bank and over 500 acres of the world’s plants including temperate woodlands, ornamental gardens and a nature reserve. It is situated in the High Weald of Sussex, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and focuses on wild plant collections. The Millennium Seed Bank houses and protects seed from the world’s most substantial and diverse collection of threatened and useful wild plants, making it the most biodiverse place on earth.  

RBG Kew receives just under half of its funding from Government through the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and research councils. Further funding needed to support Kew’s vital work comes from donors, membership and commercial activity including ticket sales. 

About Fuse Arts Collective

Fuse is a collective of artists and designers dedicated to using cutting edge technology to explore unique immersive and interactive ways of engaging new audiences. We exist at the intersection of art, science, education, research and technology and believe that immersive performance art can and should be a catalyst in provoking discussion on social issues and encouraging real change.

About Mental Health Awareness Week and the Mental Health Foundation

Mental Health Awareness Week is marked in different ways by organisations and individuals and is a chance to discuss mental health issues. This year the Foundation is asking people to share their stories of being in nature during the Week on social media using #ConnectWithNature and #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek.

The Mental Health Foundation is the leading charity for everyone’s mental health. With prevention at the heart of what we do, we aim to find and address the sources of mental health problems so that people and communities can thrive.

About University of Surrey

University of Surrey - a global community of ideas and people, dedicated to life-changing education and research. The University of Surrey is a research-intensive university committed to teaching and research excellence, with a focus on practice-based education programmes, providing a world-class experience to its students, who go on to make positive contributions to society. It is committed to working in partnership with students, business, government and communities in the discovery and application of knowledge.