Service users feel positive benefits of gardening

July 8, 2024

The therapeutic benefits of gardening have been on offer in the Forest of Dean thanks to the vision and resolve of its community mental health team and kind donations from local organisations.

Service users started planting, crafting and growing in the summer of 2022 after Senior Mental Health Community Nurses Nicky Gibbons and Vicky Mullholland decided the gardens and patio around Colliers Court could be both a therapeutic and practical project.

The Wednesday gardening group has taken an informal and easy-going approach to horticulture, while adding colour and decoration to the building and a relaxing activity for patients.

Nicky said: “When I first came to Colliers Court three years ago, this area wasn’t in a very good state, overgrown and untended, and I wanted to see if we could make the environment a bit better.

“We got the go ahead, but no money. But with a little bit of motivation you can make a lot of change.

“So we appealed to colleagues across the Trust for seeds and plants to get started, and ended up with some donations, including an old greenhouse.

“From there we went to the Oak Quarry Recycling Centre in Coleford and begged for any old tools or pots, and lovely Brian, the manager there, got permission and then saved us lots of stuff.  And that got us going.

“Our service users came and we just started working one-to-one, every Wednesday and it grew from there. We work with people with quite severe mental health issues, so it had to be ad hoc as sometimes people couldn’t make it.

“It’s not a therapy session, it’s something else, something a bit different. You might only be working for 20 or 25 minutes but people responded really well. It’s lovely.”

Following their own relaxed course, the group has branched out from the early days of pots and planters into mosaics, bug houses, bird feeders and composters – thanks to support from nearby businesses and organisations.

Prizes for a Christmas 2023 raffle were kindly donated following the hard work from a service user Tracey who visited many businesses. Contributions came from Wyedean Healthfoods, Greenhill Café, Gloucester Rugby Club, Reveal Hair Salon, Great Oaks, Wilde Earth Journey, Taylors Jewellers, Strongman Gym, Forget Me Not, Candi Youth Space, Vinyl Vital Signs, BMC Weston Florists and Skoops Cards. Soil and plants were donated by Coinross and The Nursery Little Drybrook.

Nationally recognised brands also chipped in, with donations from Body Shop, Tesco, Hobbycraft, The Entertainer and F Hinds Jewellers.

Mosaics on planters were created in sessions run by local mosaic artist Rachel Shilston and funded by Forest of Dean District Council.

Nicky added: “We might have between one and three people here gardening, so it’s not large numbers, but that doesn’t matter. It’s about the benefit.

“One lady was weeding the paving, and I asked her: ‘Don’t you mind doing that?’ but she said: “Not at all – I find it really therapeutic!

“When you’re working with people on their mental health, meetings can be very formal. Gardening is informal, and people open up and talk like friends.”

Community Support Worker Bev Mayo and Associate Nurse Practitioner Kim Wassell have also played a central role in keeping gardening on offer and hope to continue to do so when Nicky retires later this year.

“I’m hoping someone picks it up and takes over when I retire,” Nicky adds. “If we could get another community garden project to join us, that would be lovely.”

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