During the spring of 2014 Gardening Leave Chelsea underwent a much needed re-fit. Raised beds were built, a new shed installed, large enough to house veterans at tea and lunch breaks and provided shelter on hot and wet weather days. Smooth pathways laid allowing access for wheel chair users and allowing mobility through the garden a lot easier. A wildlife pond has been built and a decked area with seating and umbrella for much needed shade.
Our Open Day was held on April 30th with the launch of our anti-stigma Honesty Campaign, which was attended by Rugby for Heroes and our other supporters.
Veterans have been able to sow seeds, raise plants and nurtured them during Horticultural Therapy sessions to produce a bountiful harvest which have exceeded all previous records.
More veterans have been able to access the growing areas, tend crops more often and keep the weeds down allowing maintenance of the garden to be a continual and gentler process.
Target Indicators for the project
Four veterans in total benefited from your funding, undertaking 12 week session courses that provided horticultural activities that encourage Gardening Leave veterans to begin to make positive changes to their mental health challenges.
We used our three HT strands to provide activities to accommodate these changes.
- Plant Right Eat Right strand. This area focuses on the planting growing, harvesting, and preparation of fruit, herbs and vegetables to eat and share. Creating opportunity to improve veterans ‘5 A Day’ intake, share recipes and learn new skills that can be carried through to an individual’s activities at home, skills that last a lifetime.
Our new raised beds were instrumental in allowing the veterans to reach the soil without bending. (Many suffer from bad backs and some from balance problems due their medication).
Crops have been so bountiful we have been able to share produce with the Kitchens catering for the Chelsea Pensioners and a sign has gone up to communicate where the home grown produce was from, creating a great sense of pride for our veterans.
Produce has been harvested to eat at lunch time, encouraging veterans to eat more of their 5 A Day and taste produce they would not normally eat. Homemade tomato sauces have gone down particularly well in pasta dishes. Kale, onions, greens and potatoes have gone into making some lovely lunches. We now have a PRER volunteer who is a brilliant cook and the veterans have responded very well to the new lunchtime recipes.
Pickled bean chutney will be a new challenge for the autumn.
Harvesting watering and re seeding activities to keep up with the crops has created the need for planning for the future, (crop rotation and planting designs), decision making (what plant to put where), team working (may hands make light work) and timed activities (having produce ready for events, sales etc.) have connected the veterans with meaningful horticultural tasks.
- A quarter of our work focuses on the Wildlife Gardening strand.The monitoring of wildlife in the gardens is a fundamental part of horticultural therapy for veterans. In the military, the skills of identification and observation are key to daily life. In the move to civilian life the issues of identity and continuity are often very challenging. Monitoring and feeding back useful information for analysis allows veterans to carry these skills through to civilian life and engages them in quality activities.
Chelsea’s new pond was planted up, a labour intensive activity that has produced visible change over a short period of time. Through the pond veterans can experience natural lifecycles in this small but wild space helping them connect with metaphors that relate to their own lives, such as nurturing plants to help them flourish, a metaphor for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Over time we hope that we will see wildlife flourish, the fish, certainly have!
- The final quarter of our work focuses on From the Garden. This is where all the activities we do around donating, and selling, are pulled together in a “making” strand. From providing the MTI Café in Chelsea to selling plants, from making bird boxes and restoring tools to supplying hospital kitchens and donating to soup kitchens.
We have started to sell veteran grown produce once a month on a stall outside the Chelsea Hospital Café raising £30-60 each time. Veterans who feel able accompany the HT’s and a volunteer supports this activity.