Arts and mental health

Sydenham Garden Project

Thanks to support from donors, funding has been provided for Sydenham Garden and its initiatives on several occasions.

Sydenham Garden is a wellbeing hub, enabling people to recover and live well through social and therapeutic horticulture, arts and crafts, nature conservation, as well as many other activities.

It helps people to improve their current quality of life and rekindle their hope for a positive future. For many people who take part in the project (who are called ‘co-workers’), the garden has been the beginning of a positive new start. It has helped them to come to terms with conditions such as schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder.

After taking part in the programme, co-workers are more able to deal with the lack of confidence, disorientation and low self-esteem that can partly result from such circumstances. Their increased self-esteem, energy and self-belief can have a dramatic effect on their outlook.

‘Like all creative and physical activity, it reduces stress and depression, but with the added benefit of being outdoors. It helps you connect with people and nature, and is a learning medium,’ says Tom Gallagher, the director of Sydenham Garden, speaking about the many benefits of becoming a member of the project.

‘It’s focused on you and not your diagnoses,’ says Tom.

Maudsley Charity has given Sydenham Garden funding towards the construction of a new Resource Centre. This building has enabled them to work with hundreds more people per year than before and also diversify their programmes. It is the ‘hub’ of Sydenham Garden: all at once an administration base, activity room, kitchen, and meeting space. The Resource Centre is completely ‘green’, as it passes high environmental standards .

In 2013, over 140 co-workers regularly attended one of the core services, and were supported by over 50 volunteers.

Building up confidence again

Ronald Pearce began attending gardening sessions in June 2013 after his partner sadly passed away. The programme was recommended by his psychologist as a way to help him get out and about more, as Ronald had lost contact with the outside world after being the primary carer for his partner for many years, and needed to regain his life skills and motivation.

At first, Ronald wasn’t sure it would be for him, but, in the end, he enjoyed meeting everyone and didn’t feel awkward or frightened, as he had expected. 

‘I’m just glad I attended,’ says Ronald. Sydenham Garden helped him to come to terms with the changes happening in his life, got him through difficult times like Christmas and his late partner’s birthday, and now Ronald no longer feels like an outsider.

‘I could not have made all the progress without Sydenham Garden,’ he says.

When he finishes the program, Ronald would like to use the skills and knowledge he has gained to either obtain further qualifications or to find related employment. He is considering trying horticultural therapy, so that he can pass on the same benefits that he has received to others in need. 

Ronald says, ‘I recommend it to anybody who would benefit from such a program: take the first step!’

Learning and mental health

‘More recently we [Sydenham and Maudsley] have partnered over a growing desire for people to not only recover their health, but also deepen their understanding of their illness and their future prospects. This has led to us hosting the Recovery College as a base for Lewisham residents,’ says Tom.

The Recovery College is also funded by donations. This service encourages students at the College to become experts in their own journey of recovery, with trainers who have experienced mental health difficulties co-designing and co-running the courses alongside mental health professionals.

Sydenham Garden and the Recovery College offer courses in mental health awareness and understanding psychosis, and will also run a Tree of Life workshop this term at the garden. Tree of Life is a half-day recovery workshop which uses elements of narrative theory to introduce ideas of strength and hope to participants.

Maudsley Charity has also funded the ‘Growing Lives’ initiative at Sydenham Garden, which aims to improve people’s skills for work. Co-workers can gain experience of working in the fresh produce market and grow goods to be sold to the public. They are involved in marketing, selling, producing, and even the financial side of running a market garden.

There is also an opportunity to gain OCN level 2 qualifications in Organic Gardening, which are comparable to NVQ Level 2, GCSE’s A* to C and Higher Diploma. In the future, Sydenham Garden hopes to offer qualifications in business management and marketing. 

Coping with dementia

Sydenham Garden has also developed a programme which specifically benefits people with early-onset dementia. The programme’s activities are based in, or are inspired by, the gardens and their produce. Co-workers can also take part in growing, harvesting and seasonal crafts.

‘In May 2013 we launched our amazing and innovative Sow & Grow service,’ says Tom. ‘This is a 6-month therapeutic programme for people recently diagnosed with dementia. An in-depth annual evaluation found that 85% of co-workers on Sow & Grow show improvements in their cognitive function, social interaction and physical health.’

The Sow & Grow service is accompanied by other activities such as cognitive stimulation therapy and creative and social activities, which are designed to improve well-being. It can be attended by 24 co-workers at any one time.

If you’ve been inspired by the work of Sydenham Garden and you want to help more people cope with mental illness, build confidence or find work again, please make a donation to SLaM today.