Prison gardening


In November, horticultural therapists from Thrive Birmingham will start a gardening programme for prisoners with mental ill health at HM Prison Hewell. 

Funded by *Health in justice, Thrive will work with prisoners with mental health support needs in the prison garden once a week for a year. 

Amanda Fields, regional manager for Thrive in Birmingham, said: "The prison already has a good outside space and we are looking forward to working with inmates who are not in the best of health, helping them reap the benefits structured gardening can bring. 

"We will be working in small groups and the prisoners who are part of the programme all have specific mental health support needs. 

"In the first few weeks we will spend time getting to know everyone and focus on encouraging the inmates to plan what to do with the garden. This is good for their focus and motivation and we hope in the first few weeks they will learn new skills and embrace creativity."

Allowing the prisoners to have a choice in what they want to do and who with can help improve relationships, and can be especially powerful in an outdoor setting. 

Some of the outcomes Thrive expects to see over the 12 months include improvements in physical health and fitness levels from tidying the garden, digging, weeding and raking.

Planting autumn or spring flowers in borders or pots shows creativity and taking pride in this task will  result in instant gratification and a feeling of accomplishment and achievement. This therapeutic value and feeling of wellbeing that people get from gardening, growing food and the outdoor environment has a strong and positive impact on out physical and mental wellbeing.

Harvesting vegetables that have been grown from seed promotes fitness, self worth and achievement leading to improved self-esteem.  

Sowing seeds and eventually potting them on improves concentration and teaches new skills. It can also help with numeracy and literacy as seeds are counted and plant labels written.

Watering and caring for plants during the summer months encourages responsibility, shows focus and motivation and by making sure they are growing well will lead to satisfaction. 

Thrive has worked in secure settings before and research from this period indicated that rehabilitation and personal development are the two main functions of horticultural activity in secure settings.  

Work skills training and social development were also seen as important factors. 

The prison service said:  "When you take some really rough and big prisoners who are doing some very careful tasks, like pruning or potting up or pricking out, the prisoners have time to think when they’re out there in nature and fresh air."

The context of confinement is a powerful influence on perceptions of activities. In the past, participants described some of the emotional benefits that they had experienced; a clear message was the difference between the experience of being confined indoors and being outside in a work environment.
Thrive is looking for volunteers to assist with this fixed term programme. Volunteers would need to satisfy the relevant security conditions imposed by the prison. Contact the Birmingham team for more information on 0121 293 4531.

*Heath in justice is the UK’s leading independent provider of health services in prisons, sexual assault referral centres and youth offender establishments. 

*Stock picture by Sasha Hitchcock