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Allotment Group

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25 September 2023

Gardening for Occupational Therapy

Gardening is an incredible activity and has so many benefits but there are some practical difficulties that can make it problematic to access. Unfortunately, not everyone has their own garden and rented sites are extremely limited, with waiting lists taking approximately 3 years before plots can be available. Many of these rented plots are in remote places without appropriate accessibility and this can be very challenging, particularly for people who may have reduced mobility or additional needs.

Understanding how beneficial this pass-time can be, we recently embarked on a new project here at Heads Up Therapies, opening up our weekly ABI Allotment Group. Using a fully accessible site based in Oldham, we have been able to provide a safe and secure outdoor environment for our clients to use for their enjoyment and have been working with them on various aspects of their rehabilitation during these sessions. Using gardening tasks and the garden itself we have seen;

Improved physical health, mobility, dexterity and flexibility

Using physical tasks and tailored equipment, we have been able to ensure that our clients can perform all aspects of gardening tasks in a safe and personalised way. We have recently introduced seed sowing dispensers and pipettes to aid with our client’s dexterity and independence when performing gardening tasks and that is just one example of how we are able to use this group to assist with our clients’ rehabilitation. Gardening is not just a great way to improve physical health and mobility but has many intricate tasks that we can incorporate into our sessions to aid and improve our clients' dexterity.

Improved Mental Health

Completing tasks, while connecting with nature, has so many benefits for a person’s mental health. There is an incredible sense of achievement when you are able to begin a project and see the development of this project in all its stages, right through to the end result, where you can enjoy the outcome and reflect on the process. There are so many stages to gardening and each stage requires an immense amount of consideration and responsibility. By assisting our clients throughout this process, we are able to see them take pride and responsibility in these tasks, encouraging a sense of achievement and purpose, which is incredibly beneficial for their mental health.

Alongside these gardening tasks, we are also able to facilitate relationships within our allotment group, which is something many of our clients feel they struggle with in their everyday life. One most recent example of this was during our ‘brew break’, where one of our clients opened up about something that had been bothering him that week. Not only was our client able to use this time as an outlet for his frustrations, another of our clients offered some words of comfort and humour. Seeing them support one another in this way was something very powerful. Our social groups have many physical and cognitive benefits that are undeniable, but the social and peer support that they offer is something that is so beneficial for our clients’ mental health and something that is not easily replicated through traditional therapy settings.

Opportunities to Connect With Others and the Wider Community

As discussed above, the social interactions and peer support that is facilitated through our social groups is something that is extremely beneficial to our clients, and something that is not easily replicated in traditional therapy settings. Something that is apparent throughout our gardening sessions is how the environment affects the mood and well-being of our clients and how this may contribute to the success of facilitating friendships and relationships. Many of our clients can often find themselves overwhelmed in social settings and this can sometimes lead to negative interactions or complete withdrawal from social events, resulting in potential feelings of isolation and loneliness.

The quiet, serene site we have been able to secure for our clients is such a positive environment, promoting peace, relaxation and positive engagement and, as highlighted earlier, this environment has evolved into a place where our clients feel safe and secure enough to disclose their frustrations with their peers.

Alongside this, it has opened avenues of connecting with members of the community and other organisations, expanding those relationships even further.

Acquiring New Skills and Personal Growth

Some of our clients already have pre-existing knowledge of gardening and they are able to expand on this throughout our groups, sharing their knowledge and experience with their peers. For these, and clients who have no previous experience with gardening, there are so many new and exciting things that they can learn and this expands with every session.

Witnessing our clients’ confidence grow with each session has been wonderful and we have received feedback from family members and support workers sharing that, after sessions, clients have spoken on how proud they have felt with themselves and how hard they felt they had worked. Knowing that the sense of pride, purpose and achievement that our clients have felt during sessions has continued throughout the days and weeks is something that we are so pleased with.

One of our clients took home some freshly grown produce that he had planted months before and cooked a meal with his support worker later that evening, sending pictures of his achievement to share with the group and that is just one example of how valuable these sessions are in nurturing confidence, pride and achievement.

Educational and Ecological Engagement

Ecological engagement has so many benefits and many of these have been highlighted throughout this blog. What is so important to recognise is that everyone can benefit from this amazing activity. Understanding a wider purpose and taking better care of ourselves and our planet as well as being an integral part in the community are the fundamentals of our ecological engagement but alongside that is the improved physical and mental health, self-esteem, and confidence that our clients are expressing as a result of our allotment group.

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