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Healed by horticulture

5 July 2012

by Clare Frank – South West regional team

As a recent new addition to the Communications Team at Big South West, it is really important for me to get out and about and meet some of the wonderful projects we have funded around the region, to find out what impact our funding has had on them and to continue to promote the great work they do.

Recently I visited Chestnut Nursery in Poole. This is the second project of the charity the Sheltered Work Opportunities Project (SWOP). SWOP was set up in 1989 in response to the need for sheltered voluntary work in a supportive environment for adults with severe and enduring mental illness.

The Nursery was awarded £138,000 in July 2007 under the Reaching Communities programme to expand its current work which provides work placements for more than 50 people with severe and enduring mental health problems.

The project aims to improve the mental well-being of the volunteers through the healing nature of horticulture. The volunteers are offered a supported pressure-free work environment, as due to the nature of their illness, they may be unable to compete in the open job market. It also reduces the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness by increasing the public’s awareness through their interaction with the volunteers at the garden centre.

On the day I visited, they were holding their annual open day, where they invited local dignitaries, nursery friends and members of the public to see for themselves the work the Nursery is doing, hear about their plans for the future and talk to the volunteers. It was really inspiring to talk to some of the volunteers, one who described how her whole outlook on life has changed since working there and how she now wakes up with a smile on her face every day.

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The project has had a significant impact on the volunteers that work there, as Bob who has worked at the Nursery for six years said:

“Before I came here life was pretty horrendous for me. Even though I had my family for support, when you have mental health issues it is really difficult to start to move forward with your life. Since working here, I have started to get my self-esteem back; as I am working with people who have similar issues to me.”

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