Over the moon to see the Gardening4health website and directory shortlisted for this BMJ award.
Looking at the other finalists I suspect I have very little chance of success. However, the real win will be in the wider publicity for Social and Therapeutic Horticulture through the awards process, especially in the Medical and Social Prescribing worlds.
I have to face a grilling by the judges, and will know the outcome in a few weeks. Thanks to everyone whose support for the directory is so hugely appreciated.
As a GP, and both a keen Gardener and a trainee in Garden Design I have long been aware of the benefits that come from gardening and horticulture for both myself and my own well-being, but more importantly for that of my patients.
The COVID19 Pandemic and the UK Lockdown in 2020 saw a rapid growth in the wider use of gardening to maintain mental and physical well-being for many people. Moreover there has been a steady growth in recent years of organisations across the UK that provide Social and Therapeutic Horticulture for service users.
People living with Mental health problems, Physical health problems, Sensory impairments, learning disabilities, and a range of other problems including loneliness and isolation are all increasingly able to access help, support and camaraderie through these organisations. They also provide huge benefits for those that work for them – often giving their time and expertise in a voluntary basis.
The problem that I encountered as a GP was that I was unaware of what was available in my area. Often I’d come across these organisations in a rather haphazard way – perhaps visiting a garden in the National Garden Scheme or as an affiliate of the Royal Horticultural Society, and only then understanding the role they could offer my patients – either to be service users, or to work as volunteers. I’d often find some amazing charity and blog about it – but was both sad that local GPs were unaware of its existence, and frustrated that the benefits were available to such a small localised population.
So with Social Prescribing booming – and actively encouraged by the UK Government, there seemed to me to be a lack of coordination and publicising of the available services – either to prescribers like myself, other health or social care workers, or even for members of the public to self-refer to.
This website is my attempt to address this need. I hope that people can use it primarily to find out what services are available in any given locality within the UK. I also hope that the organisations themselves may be able to use it as a means of networking and liaising with like-minded Horticulturalists.
Its groundbreaking purpose is to provide a therapeutic sanctuary to people with mental health problems. People with problems such as Depression or Anxiety, Dementia, Learning disabilities, Head Injuries, Autistic Spectrum Disorders or even loneliness can be referred formally, or can self-refer.
They are the Gardeners, and are supported by an amazing team of dedicated Staff and Volunteers.
Typical sessions run for three hours and can be either short or long term depending on their needs.
Through “Social and therapeutic horticulture” Gardeners gain in so many ways. A nurturing environment where they can learn new skills, including crafts, carpentry, cooking as well as the gardening and garden planning.
Co-founder Charlie Powell has collected evidence in terms of not just improvements of depression, anxiety or dementia symptoms, but also self-esteem, confidence and a sense of belonging. Of course there’s also the benefit of physical activity and fresh air.
She told me that whilst Gardeners can come and get involved with planned activities, it’s also important for them to know it’s OK if they just want to sit in peace and quiet.
There’s a strong emphasis on Biodiversity and the ecology of the site is taken very seriously. This integration with the garden’s environment is clearly mirrored in the Gardeners’ integration with society.
Currently Charlie’s main concern is how to get back up and running in a safe way after lockdown; taking all the precautions needed for Staff, Volunteers and Gardeners’ wellbeing.
I know of nowhere quite like it in the UK. Visit if you can or donate.