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A scheme set up to help mental health patients to be more active is growing from strength to strength.

The Growing ²gether scheme is based at the Hayden Road allotments, in Cheltenham, and service users from the ²gether NHS Foundation Trust as well as other agencies attend regular sessions there.

Alicia Talbot, an Exercise and Health Practitioner with the Trust’s Cheltenham Assertive Outreach Team, runs the sessions, with support from ²gether staff and local Community Health Trainers.

She said that the people who take part– most of whom have a severe and enduring mental illness – are benefitting hugely from the exercise, fresh air, sense of satisfaction and social opportunities offered by the scheme.

She said: “Green exercise has proven mental and physical health benefits, and has emerged as a simple, low-cost, therapeutic activity, for individuals experiencing mental health problems.

“Through the allotment, our clients can work together to plan, prepare and grow produce, take the produce home to cook healthy meals, learn life skills, and improve their physical and mental health in the great outdoors.

“It’s also about getting out and meeting other people, providing routine and structure, improving communication skills and gaining a sense of achievement from what they are doing.

“Being physically active is really important for mental health and wellbeing, but not everyone wants to go to the gym, start running or take part in competitive sport.

“Gardening is something that appeals to many people, and our sessions are regularly attended, even in the depths of winter.”

When the site was originally rented by ²gether, it was uncared for, with old play equipment and long grass covering it.

Since then it has been transformed into a viable growing area, with a shed, a path and seating area, compost bins, tools, a bench, water butt and fencing all installed.  

As well as ²gether’s service users, the plot is also used by clients of local Community Health Trainers. The allotment scheme was granted funding from the Cheltenham Partnership’s NHS Reducing Health Inequalities ‘Olympic Legacy’ Fund and is supported by Cheltenham Borough Council’s Healthy Lifestyles Department and Vision 21, a not for profit, independent, environmental sustainability organisation, which provides a consultancy service to the allotment scheme.  Vision 21 also run a series of free ‘Grow your Own’ workshops, which  service users and staff are able to access for further information and advice.