Monday, 20 March 2017

Therapeutic gardening in Machynlleth

At the start of a new gardening year we talk to Kate Doubleday, Garden Volunteer Co-ordinator at Gerddi Bro Dyfi Gardens in North Powys. Kate tells us more about this therapeutic open space for people which is also beneficial to local wildlife.

What is the aim of the project?

Gerddi Bro Ddyfi is an organic wildlife community garden in the heart of Machynlleth. It is a people-led project, where the volunteers can choose their own activity. The aim is to create a nurturing, peaceful environment where everyone can feel supported and gain a sense of belonging. Our volunteer days are on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 10.30am - 4pm. We provide refreshments and have a volunteer shelter where people can take refuge in the rain. Throughout the year we also offer a range of one day activity workshops in scything, willow weaving, bird watching, and green woodworking for example.

Tell us more about your role at Gerddi Bro Ddyfi Gardens?

My role is mainly to facilitate a group of volunteers to enjoy and explore the garden. I work with a dedicated volunteer committee, and none of it would happen without their efforts.

My role is multi-faceted, and I go from gardening with the volunteers to liaising with Community Psychiatric Nurses to sitting in fundraising meetings.

I also work with the community nursery group doing wild play and environmental education with Early Years, and I’ve worked with youth clubs, doing outdoor work and graffiti projects with young people. The youth club was instrumental in the design aspect of the garden in the early days.

How long have you worked there and what drew you to the role?

I’ve worked at the gardens since 2008. Myself and a colleague, Leigh Munton, had both previously worked in therapeutic gardening roles and saw a need for this in Machynlleth. We ran short horticultural courses in the community and realised that when people had finished these one-off courses there was no way for people to carry on gardening in a social way.

Having worked at the Martineau Gardens in Birmingham previously I’d seen the value of a permanent therapeutic garden and how much this can provide a community. I’d experienced the incredible power gardening has on our wellbeing.

Tell us about the volunteers at the gardens

They’re fantastic! The garden wouldn’t be what it is without our volunteers, both on the ground and on the committee. We have a dedicated core group, who are all ages and from a variety of backgrounds, who turn up whatever the weather and maintain the garden for the community. Some of them have been coming for years.

What kind of work do they get involved with?

We do a range of activities, from weeding to woodwork, to planting flowers to attract wildlife to maintaining the vegetable beds.

How does a typical day pan out?

The day always starts with a cup of tea and a catch-up, and often some cake too! There’s usually a list of things that need doing, and this depends very much on the season, but people lead their own activities, and they can do as little or as much as they want. You can work alone or in a team – people have their own preferences.

Things always get exciting when we’re preparing for an event. It’s good to have something to work towards.

Who can volunteer to join the project?

Gerddi Bro Ddyfi is open to anyone from the community. We have good wheelchair access and hope to be as inclusive as possible. We’re particularly open to people who may feel excluded or who are having challenging life experiences.

What kind of support do you offer to the volunteers?

I see myself as a facilitator to help people come together in a beautiful space to socialise and connect with one another, and with nature. I aim to always provide a listening ear too. In some cases I signpost people to receive further support.

How does volunteering in a garden environment impact on people’s mental health?

Research shows that the act of looking after plants, as well as being active outdoors, is beneficial for a person’s mental health.

Horticulture as a therapy differs from other therapies in that it works with living entities which have their own needs and requirements. Through nurturing these entities, people become involved in something outside of themselves and this process can help them feel less isolated and more connected with the social and natural world, as well as developing a sense of pride and accomplishment.

Volunteers also interact with visitors from the community and this is clearly beneficial for their confidence, especially if they feel stigmatised.

Tell us how your work fits in with other voluntary sector groups

We work closely with the volunteer bureau, Community Action Machynlleth & District (CAMAD), also based in Machynlleth, which often sends volunteers our way. We’ve recently been building bridges with Ponthafren Association in Newtown, and we’ve done joint events with Edible Mach, Bro Ddyfi Advice Centre, and Mid Wales Housing, under the banner Bwyd Dyfi Partnership.

What are the main challenges of your role?

Fundraising, without a doubt, is the biggest challenge. It’s very difficult to raise funds alongside the work I do on the ground, and obviously with austerity policies things are getting harder. Working with volunteers is extremely rewarding, although sometimes it’s challenging, and I’m learning all the time.

Tell us about some of the most rewarding work you have done at the Gardens

I’ve found it very rewarding to be involved in providing access for people with physical disabilities, enabling them to garden and to take pleasure from outdoor work. The greatest reward is to see the volunteers connecting and growing to support one another, so that my role becomes marginal. Some of them become very close friends. Also it makes me happy to see volunteers go on to find jobs afterwards, with greater confidence, having used the gardens as a stepping stone. Having been a volunteer myself in Birmingham during a difficult time in my life, it gives me pleasure to be able to give something back.

If you would like to get involved at Gerddi Bro Ddyfi Gardens contact Kate on 07941 908 891 or check out the website.

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