Think of the NHS and you will probably picture a hospital, but most of the NHS is in fact in the community. Another image might be money and what on earth are they spending it on? Well, some of it is going into earth – in gardens! The NHS plans to refer almost 1M people to social prescribing schemes offering more personalised care because it works.
We all like time in the garden – it stills the mind, it grounds you, connects you to something fundamental and, perhaps surprisingly, heals. Research shows that doctors who prescribed gardening and similar projects brought an amazing 25% reduction in their visits to A&Es.
The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) garden from the Chelsea Flower Show later this month will be replanted at an NHS trust soon, but the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust has created its own allotment garden project in Uxbridge thanks to Fiona Eastmond, senior peer support worker and Nicki Harvey, senior occupational therapist.
The project started in August 2017 and has transformed a small open space with overgrown grass into an organic, sustainable and recovery-focused peer-led co-operative. Members are patients in the community team, those transitioning from impatient wards to community and their carers. Members are encouraged to identify their occupational strengths and interests and develop roles and shared responsibilities within the group. Activities include gardening, DIY, creative writing, problem-solving and managing money.
They are a self-funded project relying on donations and members offer a small weekly contribution; a total of £300 has achieved a great deal.
Members have nurtured seedlings at home, procured recycled palettes to build accessible raised beds and participated in group visits to garden centres. This has enabled members to overcome their occupational barriers, form meaningful relationships, use public transport independently, develop communication and interaction skills in the community and with each-other, increase their physical health, develop new skills and interests and ultimately move towards peer-led recovery outside of services.
Over the winter months, the members worked in partnership with Hillingdon Adult Community Learning to organise two horticultural courses for practical learning. They are now planning to write a recipe book promoting healthy cooking of the allotment produce. A keen chef made pumpkin pie last year!
The project has provided opportunities for social prescribing, for example, courses certified by the RHS, voluntary and paid work opportunities and participating in other community projects, all of which improves mental health.
Fiona says: “We are incredibly proud to be part of such a successful community group and look forward to seeing how it evolves as members continue to dig for recovery!”
Projects like this support and sustain recovery and they are also prescribing support for staying in employment or education, employment specialists helping people back into work and supporting employers to achieve it too.
Cllr Ketan Sheth is Brent Council’s Chair of the Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee and Lead Governor of Central and North west London NHS Foundation Trust