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In the latest in our series profiling STH and Green Care organisations, Thrive Education and Learning Officer Mark Emery visited the Forest Farm Peace Garden in Hainault, Essex.

My day at the gardens began when I was met by Kate, who was co-running the session that day and given a brief tour of the site, which despite being told was running at reduced numbers due to restrictions over the last couple of years, still had an abundance of various beds and ongoing activities to choose from.

Forest Farm Peace Garden offers Ecotherapy to those they welcome to their site and works to the ethos of: ‘Earth care, People care, Fair share’, which to me summed up the approach towards nature, individuals and community that many projects encompass within their work.

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After the tour, I was invited to join an ‘opening circle’ where each member taking part could share news, be it positive or negative, about their week as well as anything else they may wish to with the group.

We also did some gentle warmups and stretches which struck me as a very good idea to prevent injury as we approached mid-winter.

This was followed by a mindfulness exercise which involved each of us individually wandering around the garden space quietly taking in what was around us and enjoying a peaceful moment to ourselves.

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We then checked the board to see what jobs needed doing that day, choosing planting out seedlings and seed sowing green manure over digging out trenches for willow planting (which got done by a learning disability led community group later).

We worked in a well facilitated polytunnel and I was gratified as ever to see the client volunteer I worked alongside show confidence and understanding of all aspects of the task being carried out.

When I asked the same client volunteer what they enjoyed about Forest Farm Peace Garden they replied they found it to be: “A good place to get away from it all.” and “A safe place.”

They also explained one of their favourite roles within the project was using the expansive herb garden space to make tea for events held on site or just for those attending on a given day using lavender, mint, fennel, as well as many of the other herbs available.

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At lunchtime, I had a chance to talk to the group as well as the volunteer buddies and those running the session about what else Forest Farm Peace Garden had to offer.

Kate talked through the benefits of the project in relation to physical and mental health, as well as opportunities for sharing and developing knowledge within the group against the backdrop of wildlife and nature.

I also found out about a few of the workshops run on site recently which included (takes a breath): Dye making, food fermenting, herbal remedy making, talks on permaculture, three sister planting and cooking. The last one provided each person attending with a salsa made from tomatillos.

The point was made that those accessing the garden, while benefiting from it onsite, were also gaining from it outside the project as well.

And as one of the buddy volunteers pointed out: “It's rewarding to see how the (client) volunteers have grown.”

Sadly, by then it was time to take my leave, so I missed the afternoon session that was just starting up and the ‘closing circle’ of the day.

But to close, I would say the Forest Farm Peace Garden is doing everything it set out to and more in providing a community focused Green Care programme in a welcoming and enriching environment.

If you are interested in joining Forest Farm Peace Garden's ecotherapy team as a buddy volunteer, there is a training session in February. Being a buddy is an opportunity to gain hands-on experience in Social and Therapeutic Horticulture. Find out more here: Buddy volunteers — Forest Farm Peace Garden

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