The Therapy Garden is a horticulture and education charity that uses gardening to generate positive change. We work with adults and teenagers with learning difficulties, physical disabilities and mental health challenges and offer school-age teenagers interventional education opportunities. Based in the village of Normandy, the charity was established in 1998 by a local resident, with the aim of using the healing power of horticulture to connect with vulnerable and marginalised members of our community. The Therapy Garden offers a supportive learning environment and a calm, protective space. Service users are able to reconnect with nature and the outdoors, whilst gaining confidence and improving life skills.
The Therapy Garden had to close our doors to clients in the middle of March 2020 in line with Government regulations in response to the spreading Covid-19 pandemic. The impact of this was immediate as we instantly lost all our client income and a lot of Trusts and Foundations on whom we rely diverted their funds to immediate Covid response, foodbanks, night shelters etc. Two members of staff took early retirement, one member was sadly made redundant and all other staff were put on furlough – for over 5 months we maintained the Garden with one horticulturist and one member of the office team and a couple of our simply wonderful volunteers. In September, at the start of the academic year, we opened our doors once again. We are moving forward again with a much-reduced workforce, but with renewed vigour from all of us left that we will not let this virus beat us!
We have had to invest in a vast amount of PPE and safety equipment to ensure that we can keep our clients safe and to be compliant, but were are so happy to be able to welcome the clients back. We arranged the Garden into ‘work zones’ to enable each client to work in a socially distant manner and bought new garden equipment so each client has their own colour coded wheelbarrow, spade, rake etc. Every tool we use has to be put through a sheep dip like solution at the end of each day to ensure they are sterile for the next client the following day. We have Covid registers, temperature checks and a raft of paperwork each morning to ensure we are compliant, but the bottom line is the clients were back and enjoying the space and fresh air of the Garden once more.
However, the country has had to lock down once more but this time we have managed to put in place all that we need to continue to support our clients since they cannot visit the Garden in person. We produce a daily activity box that we deliver to the client’s home, styled to keep our clients connected to horticulture and outside spaces. Ideas such as planting spring window boxes – we deliver a planter, compost, bulbs and plug plants, garden bird watch information, wildlife feeder kits etc. etc. We also have a daily Zoom connections where our horticulturists can deliver talks and demonstrations.
We hope restrictions will allow us to open our doors to the community for the National Gardens Open Scheme on two dates in May and September, but as with everything in these strange times, we shall have to wait and see!