From education to employment

Green sanctuary helps people with mental health issues transform lives

People with mental health issues can improve their wellbeing, boost their confidence and develop new skills through an ecotherapy project running in east London (@bizhealthy).

It offers participants the chance to get active outdoors and take part in activities such as gardening, harvesting, cooking, mindfulness in nature and arts and crafts.

The scheme, at Forest Farm Peace Garden, in Hainault, is funded by an £85,000 grant from City Bridge Trust, the City of London Corporation’s charity funder.

City Bridge Trust Chairman Giles Shilson said:

“There’s a lot of evidence that being in nature, connecting with other people and being physically active outdoors has significant benefits for mental and physical health.

“For the people who go there, the peace garden is a sanctuary from the difficulties and stresses in their everyday lives and a place they can build their confidence, make friends and learn new skills in a safe and welcoming environment.”

The funding will also be used to stage community events and educational workshops at the peace garden, and to train ‘buddy’ volunteers who work at the garden alongside people with mental health needs.

Forest Farm Peace Garden Project Manager Kate Allardyce said:

“We see an amazing transformation in the people who come to the ecotherapy sessions. When they first join us, people may be quite withdrawn, experiencing isolation and lacking confidence, but within a few weeks there is a big difference and they are feeling a lot more positive.

“They gain the confidence to do things they never thought possible before, including volunteering and finding a new job. Some have said they’ve tried lots of different therapies but coming to the garden is the thing that has helped them most.”

Case study – ‘I feel a lot healthier – mentally and physically’

Matthew Morton, an ecotherapy participant from Redbridge, said:

“I’ve really enjoyed the ecotherapy and found it very beneficial. I feel much better about myself and feel I am now a lot healthier – both mentally and physically.

“Socialising was the biggest challenge, but with the help of the people around me, who were so welcoming and easy to talk to, I now feel a lot better than I did and socialise a lot more than I used to outside the garden too.

“Another benefit has been the opportunity to harvest and try different foods, salads and fruits, some of which were new and some I hadn’t eaten for such a long time I had forgotten what they taste like.”

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