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Fifteen people from across the UK have started two-years of study to be awarded the new Thrive diploma in Social and Therapeutic Horticulture (STH).

The course kicked off in September with face-to-face lectures and practical sessions at Thrive’s centre and gardens near Reading, but home study will be a key component of the learning experience.

The course aims to equip students with a higher education qualification that will boost the professional standing of those working in STH.

Among the students is Linda McKeown from Belfast, who has won a study bursary. Linda has been involved in gardening and garden design for 30 years: ‘I love it, it’s my passion,’ she said.

Linda Mc Keown
Diploma student 2021 Linda McKeown

Linda started her working life in accounts before having two children but always loved gardening and went to study at Queens University where she did an HNC in horticulture and then an HNC in garden design.

A couple of years ago, Linda got involved with a charity working with adults with acquired brain injury.

‘I was able to do some work with them in their gardens and I really did like it and really did appreciate how beneficial gardens and nature are to everybody but specifically to certain groups of people who may not be able to have that contact with other people and nature,’ said Linda.

‘The first day on the course has been good, everyone seems lovely and the gardens here are gorgeous

Student Linda McKeown

Linda studied for the Thrive Award in STH in 2020, just before lockdown: ‘I really enjoyed it, found it very beneficial and was able to use it in my work.

‘When I knew they [Thrive] were thinking of launching a diploma and then saw it, I thought I would absolutely love to do that, but I wasn’t quite in the position to do it.'

Linda is one of three students to receive a John Weightman Bursary. Mr Weightman, a chartered engineer and keen gardener from Ascot, died in February, and his family are supporting three students with bursaries every year for the next three years in his memory.

Linda said, ‘I was intrigued when they said there may be some bursary help towards the diploma and I was delighted and so appreciative of the fact I was able to get this support. I was delighted I was able to do the course so soon. It will make a difference, 100 per cent.

‘The first day on the course has been good, everyone seems lovely and the gardens here are gorgeous.’

Linda now works with a charity in Belfast called L’Arche which helps adults with learning disabilities. She is involved in a project to set-up a new garden there and hopes to put what she learns about STH on the diploma into practice developing it.

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