Six islanders with learning difficulties have given the 'green thumbs-up' to a pilot project aimed at improving their mental health, by getting them to grow fruit and veg.
The 'Growing Group' meet for an hour and half each week to cultivate land at Gorey that provides ingredients for the Salvation Army’s free soup at its St Helier café. They also get to keep some of the produce themselves.
The growers range in age from their 20s to their 60s, and are full of praise for the scheme, which aims to help counter social isolation.
21-year-old Ethan Allen says it’s great because, "I enjoy helping out with the environment and gardening. I like being out in nature and it’s been good getting to know the people."
For Thierry Gales (49), "It’s been very exciting and interesting. What we do with the flowers and herbs is very informative." And, according to Nicky Pallot (55), "There is a lot of gardening to be done – the people help us and we help them."
Pictured: "Everybody’s mental health benefits from being outside," the psychologist behind the growing scheme says.
Rather more light-heartedly, Kelly Blanco (40) says: "I like wetting the staff with the hose and I like the company of some of the people I have met."
The scheme has received support from B&Q and the JFTU, who gave discounts to buy gardening tools, as well as from Acorn and Overdale, who provided plants and seeds. LibertyBus also provides a minibus to get the gardeners to the allotment. It’s hoped that in the future, if funding can be found, raised beds will be created enabling islanders with mobility issues to take part in the project.
Clincial psychologist, Dr Peacock-Brennan, who is one of the driving forces behind the scheme, says: "Everybody’s mental health benefits from being outside but it is particularly important for people with learning disabilities who might have less access to these community, public spaces.
"This scheme provides community integration though a meaningful activity – it’s important that the vegetables goes back into the community via the café. Being active is great for mental health and the project enables us to have conversations with service users which can sometimes be difficult within a clinical setting."
Pictured: Food grown as part of the project is used at the Salvation Army's free soup kitchen.
Salvation Army Lieutenant Richard Nunn added: “It has been a real privilege to share with this group as they enjoy our community garden. Supporting and sharing with each member of the group as they experience gardening has been great.
"For people who are cared for on a day-to-day basis, there something special in seeing them caring for the plants as they grow and produce vegetables and fruit they can take home, and that also help us provide the free soup in our café in town every day."
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