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How do UK Salvation Army homelessness services utilise greenspace programmes for people experiencing homelessness and substance use challenges, and how might these be expanded?

   Faculty of Social Sciences

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  Dr Hannah Carver, Prof Tessa Parkes, Dr Wendy Masterton  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

The Salvation Army Centre for Addiction Services and Research (SACASR) at University of Stirling are delighted to offer a fully funded PhD studentship opportunity from 1st October 2023 for three years. This interdisciplinary studentship will explore how UK-based Salvation Army (TSA) services for people experiencing homelessness and substance use challenges currently utilise greenspace as part of their holistic and person-centred support, and how this might be expanded in line with a growing evidence base of therapeutic benefits.

‘Greenspace’ typically describes any type of natural or semi-natural, undeveloped land and is often used instead of the word ‘nature’. The link between greenspace and positive mental health is supported by a large body of evidence (Masterton et al., 2020), and, in Scotland, access to greenspace reportedly saves approximately £2.5million in mental health costs annually (Roberts et al., 2021). There are three common types of greenspace interventions: those that aim to develop greenspace and increase the amount/quality or improve accessibility; those that aim to increase use of greenspace; and those that use targeted health interventions based in greenspace (Lovell et al., 2018). These targeted health interventions are often referred to as greenspace programmes, or nature-based interventions, and are conducted in green outdoor settings such as parks, woodlands, gardens, farms, allotments, and in the wilderness. Activities may involve gardening, conservation, woodland skills, hiking, and high impact adventure activities (Fullam et al. 2021). These programmes aim to support people with their physical/mental health increasing social cohesion and interaction, self-efficacy, and physical activity, and learning new skills (Fullam et al., 2021, Garside et al., 2020, Hardie et al., 2021).

Greenspace programmes can be developed for many different groups/populations, and there is evidence that programmes such as horticultural therapy, care farming, and wilderness therapy, are successful in supporting people with co-occurring mental health and substance use challenges (Berry et al. 2021; Harper et al., 2019, Panagiotounis et al., 2021). This is important because it has been estimated that up to 75% of users of drug services and 85% of users of alcohol services experience mental health problems (Public Health England (PHE), 2017). Parallel support programmes provided for these individuals have been described as ineffective (Alsuhaibani et al., 2021), and services are fragmented so there are barriers to accessing support (Gunner et al., 2019). The Scottish Government’s Mental Health Strategy (2017) acknowledges that people with co-occurring conditions can “fall through the gaps” (p.30) because services are not joined up, stressing that there must be more focus on understanding how services can provide mental health and substance use support in a holistic way. The exploration of how and why novel initiatives such as greenspace programmes are suitable for people experiencing both poor mental health and substance use challenges is therefore a priority.

Previous research has identified theories of why programmes are successful for this population group: feelings of escape and getting away from daily stressors; having space to reflect; increased physical activity; improved self-efficacy; feelings of purpose; improved relationships with facilitators; improved communication skills with peers; and reduced isolation (Masterton et al. 2022). However, there are research gaps regarding how greenspace programmes are delivered in practice, and how they impact those involved. While greenspace programmes are being implemented in various third sector services, they are rarely empirically evaluated or disseminated within the academic evidence base meaning learning from these initiatives is limited. With this in mind, the first task of this PhD project will involve the successful candidate working with TSA on mapping how they use greenspace within their services, before collaboratively developing the research questions for the PhD. The PhD project will look to provide new interdisciplinary insights within the field of public health and supporting marginalised populations. 

The PhD supervisory team will be Dr Hannah Carver, Professor Tessa Parkes, and Dr Wendy Masterton.

The successful candidate will have:

  • A 1st or 2.1 degree in a relevant subject;
  • A Masters level degree, ideally with a strong research component;
  • Experience of conducting research using qualitative and/or quantitative methodologies, and/or conducting practice-based evaluations/service improvement using collected data;
  • Experience of working with people who experience homelessness, or have substance use and/or mental health challenges;
  • Interest/expertise in the research topic;
  • Excellent team working skills.

Relevant lived experience is welcomed, and information provided on this matter will be treated respectfully. We are committed to creating a workplace that promotes and values diversity. We strongly encourage applications from people from diverse backgrounds including gender identity, race, age, class, and ethnicity.

Hosted within the Faculty of Social Sciences, the successful student will be provided with facilities, including their own desk in an office and full access to needed software and equipment. They will be part of our research centre – SACASR - and the wider Faculty and have opportunities to meet and benefit from advice from a wide range of staff and other research students. The Faculty has a long history of co-funded studentships, and of working with non-academic audiences. Subject specific training will be available to the student on a one-to-one basis with the supervisors and with other academics within the Faculty, and through their participation in internal and external subject-specific training events. Generic training will be available through the University of Stirling’s Institute for Advanced Studies, including academic writing; project management; dissemination (papers, conference presentations); and relevant software (NVivo, Endnote).

To apply please send the following documents to [Email Address Removed] by 5pm on 19th May 2023:

  • A 4-page A4 CV detailing contact details, all qualifications and relevant experience, ensuring that you address the criteria above;
  • A letter of application no longer than 1 page detailing why you are interested in this particular PhD;
  • A 4-page research proposal using the information provided in this advert but developing a set of possible research questions and detailing your ideas for potential methodological approaches to take for this study.

Please note: if any aspect of the application is incomplete, or guidance not followed, then the application will not be considered. Interviews for those short listed will be on the 12th of June 2023. 

Funding Notes

All fees will be paid plus a yearly stipend of £18,286. Because supervision can be offered via online meetings, and the work will involve travelling across the whole of the UK and Republic of Ireland, the student will not be required to live in Scotland. Regular travel will be expected, and funds exist for this. Candidates whose first language is not English are required to provide evidence of English language proficiency equivalent to a minimum level of IELTS 6.5 (6.0 in all bands). The successful candidate must be able to study full time and start date will be October 2023.


References (optional):
Alsuhaibani, R., Smith, D. C., Lowrie, R., Aljhani, S., and Paudyal, V. (2021) Scope, quality and inclusivity of international clinical guidelines on mental health and substance abuse in relation to dual diagnosis, social and community outcomes: a systematic review. BMC Psychiatry, 21(1), pp. 1-23.
Berry M.S. et al. (2021) Using greenspace and nature exposure as an adjunctive treatment for opioid and substance use disorders: Preliminary evidence and potential mechanisms. Behavioural Processes, 186, 104344.
Fullam J. et al. (2021) A handbook for nature on prescription to promote mental health. University of Exeter. Available from:
Garside, R. et al. (2020) Therapeutic nature: Nature-based social prescribing for diagnosed mental health conditions in the UK. Available from:
Gunner, E., Chandan, S. K., Yahyouche, A., Paudyal, V., Marwick, S., Saunders, K. and Burwood, S. (2019) Provision and accessibility of primary healthcare services for people who are homeless: a qualitative study of patient perspectives in the UK. British Journal of General Practice, 69(685), E526–36.
Hardie, R. et al. (2021) Green Health Prescribing: it’s role in Lothian’s COVID-19 recovery. Edinburgh & Lothians Health Foundation. Available:
Harper, N. et al. (2019) Client perspectives on wilderness therapy as a component of adolescent residential treatment for problematic substance use and mental health issues. Children and Youth Services Review, 105, p. 104450.
Lovell, R. et al. (2018) Health and the natural environment: A review of evidence, policy, practice and opportunities for the future. European Centre for Environment & Human Health. Available:
Masterton W. et al. (2020) Greenspace interventions for mental health in clinical and non-clinical populations: What works, for whom, and in what circumstances? Health And Place, 64.
Masterton, W. et al. (2022). Exploring how greenspace programmes might be effective in supporting people with problem substance use: a realist interview study. BMC public health, 22(1), 1-19.
Panagiotounis, F. et al. (2021) Psychological effects of an adventure therapy program in the treatment of substance use disorders. A Greek pilot study. Journal of Substance Use, 26 (2), pp. 118-124.
Public Health England. (2017) Better care for people with co-occurring mental health and alcohol/drug use conditions A guide for commissioners and service providers. Public Health England. Available:
Roberts, M. et al. (2021) Natural Capital Accounts for Scotland: Urban greenspace accounts. The James Hutton Institute. Available:
Scottish Government. (2017) Mental Health Strategy. Scottish Government. Available:
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