There’s something to a garden. A patch of earth that you can call your own, and make with what you like. On the rare occasion that the sun visits this rainy isle, many feel the allure and the streets are lined with many a shirtless man pottering about the garden, uprooting the weeds and trimming the hedges. Gardeners will attest that there is something acutely soothing in the act of working with – and sometimes against – nature. Gardening is balm for the soul.
…and also for the body and mind. Healthcare professionals recognise that horticulture has many benefits; especially for individuals with disabilities. Newfields Gardening is a not-for-profit Community Interest Company in Southampton whose existence is based on that premise. Hidden away among Lordshill suburbia lie the two greenhouses, modest garden and a myriad of other facilities that make up the Newfields site. Clients arrive at 9:30, making their way over on buses, in taxis or in cars; many will stay the whole day. The day begins with a mug of tea, but after that’s done the clients head outside. The clients are involved in every aspect of gardening, including trimming the grass, washing pots, planting flowers or even doing woodwork. Some clients join staff members in carrying out garden maintenance throughout Southampton, but the majority remain at Newfields. The site is adorned with their colourful creations; flower arrangements line the wheelchair ramp, the arts and crafts room is decked out with papier mache creations and a handmade bird table stands between the fig and apple trees. As well as beautifying the landscape, Newfields teaches its clients to grow fruit and vegetables – which are often taken home by the clients themselves; literally, the fruits of their labours.
“Newfields’ motto and ethos is Learning Through Life Skills”
This is the aspect that should be emphasised: that Newfields Gardening creates conditions for their clients to make their own success. Newfields’ motto and ethos is “Learning Through Life Skills” – these skills will soon be augmented by the fact that, as a recently certified Royal Horticultural Society Approved Centre, Newfields will shortly be able to offer qualifications in Horticulture for its clients.
The positive effects for the clients cannot be over-exaggerated. Gardening can be a conduit through which they express their independence, by making a genuine, positive impact on their surrounding environment, and learning important skills whilst they do it – and these skills aren’t purely botanical: clients improve both their spatial awareness and their social skills whilst gardening. It’s not only Newfields that believes in the ability of gardening to change lives, new organisations are sprouting up all over the country, with Help for Heroes even offering ‘Gardening and Horticulture’ for veterans.
So, there’s something to a garden, and there’s something to gardening – but Newfields has struggled to bring these benefits to more people. In 2015, Southampton City Council could no longer afford to run what was then known as ‘Nutfield Gardening’ – two employees of the service (Alison Welch and Matthew Reading), unwilling to see such a beneficial project die an ignoble death, took it on as not-for-profit and from the start of 2016 it has been a ‘Community Interest Company’. Many of the previous clients – some of which have been attending Newfields for years – continued to attend after its transition. Alison and Matthew have been trying to reach more adults with disabilities in and around Southampton, and trying to reach more volunteers to help out too.
Newfields has deep-set roots, and with care (care that the Newfields staff amply supply), Newfields, and the clients, will keep growing for the future.
Newfields Gardening: http://www.newfieldsgardeningcic.co.uk/
Thrive is a charity that provides therapeutic horticulture nationwide: https://www.thrive.org.uk/what-is-social-and-therapeutic-horticulture.aspx
A publication by the independent King’s Fund that demonstrates the health benefits of horticulture: https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/publications/gardens-and-health
An article examining a proposal that gardening should be prescribed by the NHS: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/05/17/gardening-should-be-prescribed-on-the-nhs-report-says/
An article examining the psychological aspects of gardening: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/10862087/Horticultural-therapy-Gardening-makes-us-feel-renewed-inside.html