The Therapy Gardens

I do enjoy the view from my office window. I am watching our horticulturists work with a group of students to replant the raised beds in the garden, on a crisp, sunny morning. Not that we let the rain stop play; activity continues in heated poly tunnels, where seeds are sown and young plants repotted. It is wonderful to see a group of teenagers connecting with nature and this has resulted in our one-acre garden looking better than ever.

I work as a fundraiser at The Therapy Garden, a horticulture and education charity that uses gardening as a way of engaging adults and teenagers with learning difficulties, physical disabilities and mental health challenges. Based in the village of Normandy, Surrey, 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 is funded entirely by grants from charitable trusts and foundations, alongside our own local fundraising activities. Recently, there has been much discussion in the media about the benefits of horticulture and it seems the relationship between green spaces and human health and wellbeing is now being acknowledged. Research carried out by the National Gardens Scheme (NGS) showed 79% believe that access to a garden is ‘essential for quality of life’.

As a result of this, the diversity of service users in our garden has greatly increased in the last year. Our Green School continues to give students aged 14-18, with special educational needs, the chance to gain a City & Guilds vocational qualification- ‘Skills for Working Life: Horticulture’, whilst our new ‘Grow to Work’ project supports 19-25 year olds that require extra support with the transition from school or college to the workplace by offering work experience.

More recently, our ‘Stroke of Genius’ project with stroke survivors proved a huge success. The group was able to learn gardening skills transferrable to home and it seemed the chance to socialise with other stroke survivors was just as valuable as the gardening itself.

New projects are underway in 2016 to offer groups of elderly gardeners social and therapeutic horticulture sessions, with their carers being offered the chance to take a well-deserved break. Small groups of teenagers struggling in mainstream education will also get the chance to take part in six week ‘introductions to horticulture’ to see if it could be a potential career choice.

The Therapy Garden is incredibly lucky to have a team of almost 30 volunteers, without whom we simply could not exist. Volunteers help clients in the garden with various activities and find the combination of working with the clients and being out in the garden really enjoyable. We are always looking for new recruits so if you could spare a few hours a week then please get in touch.

Our annual ‘Gardens Open Day’ event is on the 19th June 2016; we open our garden to the public and organise a tour of a number of local private gardens that open for viewing on the day. The event gives us the chance to show off our award-winning garden at the height of the summer, whilst getting to know the local community better. If there are any Normandy residents that would like to show off just a little bit and open up their garden to the public for the afternoon then please get in touch!

Following a generous donation from Camberley Heath Golf Club, our refurbished on site shop is now open. The Therapy Garden shop sells seasonal plants, fruit and vegetables grown by staff and clients in the garden and gives the younger clients the chance to gain some retail experience. Come and enjoy fresh, local produce at its best. Hope to see you soon! Sally Mills

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