First to take to the floor was Sue Stuart Smith, a prominent psychiatrist and psychotherapist who has worked in the NHS for many years. Her heartfelt arguments for the benefits of nature and gardening were informed by research in neuroscience and the evidence of patients whose health has been improved through therapeutic gardening. She told the audience:
Gardening brings together the emotional, physical, social, vocational and spiritual aspects of life, boosting people’s mood and esteem.Sue Stuart-Smith
Kali Hamerton-Stove from The Glasshouse spoke of offering second chances through horticulture to women in UK prisons with the aim of reducing reoffending. She highlighted recent statistics that suggest the enterprise had reduced reoffending rates by between 10-15%.
Chair of the Health & Social Care Select Committee and Winchester MP Steve Brine also attended the morning session and told delegates that despite spending vast sums on health, there was a failure to reap the rewards in better outcomes. He urged more people to press the government to get better value for money.
The afternoon session focussed on ‘The Future - Ways Forward’. Dr Carly Wood, from Essex University got the ball rolling with statistics showing that one in six people experience a common mental illness such as anxiety or depression at some point in their lives.
Despite evidence of an increased interest in nature-based interventions from the government and the NHS, referrals are not widespread and there is very little commissioning taking place.Dr Carly Wood
Dr Wood is a senior lecturer in Sport & Exercise Science and Director of the Health, Exercise and Active Lifestyle Research Group. Her research focusses on the health and wellbeing benefits of being active in natural environments and the use of nature-based interventions for the prevention and treatment of mental ill-health.
This resonated with Dr Richard Claxton who is convinced that the health of both individuals and society is enhanced by connectivity with the natural world. Richard Claxton has been a GP in Tonbridge for over 20 years and is a passionate believer in the power of nature-based therapy for help with a wide range of health concerns. With social prescribing booming and encouraged by the government, Richard explained that there seemed to be a lack of co-ordination and publicising of available services which led to him creating the website gardening4health. Essentially users can use it to find out what services are available in any given locality in England, Wales and northern Ireland (there is separate directory for Scotland here Directory of Projects | Trellis (trellisscotland.org.uk). Richard hopes that organisations may also be able to use it as a means for networking and liaising with like-minded horticulturists.
Dave Solly from the National Academy for Social Prescribing (NASP) was one of the final speakers. NASP is a national charity that champions social prescribing and has published robust evidence which suggest that social prescribing can reduce costs and pressure on the health care system.
Fiona Thackery rounded off the afternoon’s panel of speakers with an overview of the work that Trellis, Scotland’s network for therapeutic gardening, has been doing. Fiona has been pooling resources and aligning with Thrive to create the Professional Body for STH.
“We’re similar organisations with different strengths and a shared objective to see social & therapeutic horticulture more widely recognised and available to those that can benefit.Fiona Thackery, Trellis