The bunch of carrots might not win any prizes for size but that doesn’t matter, it’s what they signify to their grower that’s important. The sense of pride, purpose and achievement that Alana* feels is huge.
Alana used to live on the streets but has moved into Queen Mary’s - Riverside’s supported accommodation for people affected by homelessness in London - where Thrive runs a gardening therapy programme. Lu Curtis, a practitioner from Thrive London, has been running weekly sessions in the small courtyard garden since 2016.
Helping customers manage their mental health and move on to more independent living is the primary focus at Queen Mary’s. The needs and backgrounds of the customers are varied and complex, ranging from those with acute anxiety to someone whose behaviour can be extreme because of Dissociative Identity Disorder.
Homelessness can be a complex situation with many causes and can create many debilitating effects. Poor mental health can lead to homelessness and homelessness can lead to poor mental health.
Aside from the well-publicised benefits of gardening on mental health conditions, this programme also offers opportunities to create more social cohesion within a group of women who have previously been isolated and whose experiences with the world have made them wary of others.
Therefore, adapting tasks to create these opportunities for interaction has been the primary goal in this programme. Lu plans activities that require the women to work together; while pruning, for example, one prunes while the other clears away the clippings. A deliberate shortage of tools means customers have to share and ask each other to use them.
Democracy is at the heart of decision-making in the garden, with discussions about planting plans, which vegetables to grow and even what colour a shed should be painted! This encourages active listening, compromise and acceptance of other’s points of view.
Before the garden project, some customers seemed reluctant to participate in activities. Since its introduction, I have seen customers previously deemed hard to engage take part in the garden project and thrive as a result.Kelvin O’Mard, Riverside Area Manager
The garden is not without its challenges; surrounding buildings limit light and perennial weeds abound but that is not stopping the group from developing the space.
Since 2016, eight customers from the gardening group have moved on to a more independent living situation, two have started to tackle hoarding issues and most of the customers, and indeed staff, have found a peaceful area to enjoy.
Kelvin O’Mard, Riverside Area Manager, said: ‘Before the garden project, some customers seemed reluctant to participate in activities. Since its introduction, I have seen customers previously deemed hard to engage take part in the garden project and thrive as a result.’
*Name changed to protect identity