12 October 2021
A local allotment has been transformed by a mental health NHS Trust and the people in its care, as a way of improving their physical and mental wellbeing and supporting their treatment.
What started as an overgrown allotment plot two years ago is now a flourishing garden filled with vegetables and flower beds and is maintained by the Stockton Psychosis and Early Intervention Team, based in Ideal House, Thornaby.
The community mental health team, part of the Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust, started using the allotment in May 2019 and cleared one vegetable bed at a time in order to grow produce.
Their first year was a challenge, with all work in the allotment halting due to COVID-19, but once restrictions lifted in August 2020, they started working one-to-one with service users.
Darryl Parkinson, occupational therapy assistant, has been leading therapy sessions with service users. He said: “Each person has their own project, including building scarecrows, upcycling garden furniture, painting stones, building a compost bin and dismantling pallets.
“We work with donated and salvaged items including seeds and other materials. We even have a regular supply of horse manure from a staff member’s horse!
“The vegetables have been used by our service users who can take home a hamper when they wish. They’ve grown everything from tomatoes to aubergines to pumpkins, and even wonky carrots and chilli peppers.
“We’ve named the allotment ‘Ideal Garden’ after the base where we work which is called Ideal House and everyone involved has helped to create and paint our sign, which takes pride of place in the allotment.”
Emma Dawson, occupational therapist at the Trust, said: “The allotment provides a safe, community environment for service users to take part in occupational therapy to support their recovery.
“We use activities such as planting seeds, nurturing seedlings, weeding, harvesting, DIY activities and cooking grown ingredients as individual projects that develop both practical and emotional skills.
“This form of therapy provides the opportunity to develop skills such as adaptability, resilience, attention, time management and responsibility, which supports the mental and physical recovery of the people we care for.”
The team hopes to purchase a polytunnel to extend the growing season and also to have an indoor classroom space for receiving care to develop and learn new skills. They were recently nominated by Dobbies Garden Centre to receive a voucher to contribute to the site.