Established: 1996

Location: Sheffield

Why it started

The garden was initiated in 1996 by Pitsmoor Surgery, a progressive surgery in a disadvantaged part of Sheffield called Burngreave.

What happens

The garden works with people who have chronic health problems or disabilities, and those that haven’t been accessing any other forms of support who may have become isolated socially. The garden grows flowers, fruits and vegetables and, being on a south-facing slope, is able to grow more exotic plants such as fig and olive trees, and grapevines. “We extend our support to asylum seekers and refugees from different countries, and for them it’s quite moving to encounter these trees that they don’t know can grow in the UK. I think they bring memories of previous lives,” says Diana Tottle, director of the project.

How many people involved?

The garden has had 22 volunteers supporting the different sessions in the last year, but only has nine at the moment. There are six part-time paid members of staff, and nine horticultural therapy professionals who visit the garden on an adhoc basis to provide support. There are also seven voluntary trustees and at present, the garden has 47 service users.

Does the group get funding?

Tottle says: “Funding is our biggest challenge. We’ve had small amounts of money from the city council and the NHS but generally we’re very dependent on charitable trust and general public donations.” Some money is received through self-directed support – people with mental health needs have an individual budget they can use to spend on whatever they want – the garden has seven people paying for the service through their personal budget. Of the four sessions run by the garden, one is paid for by service users and the other three are funded by the Big Lottery Fund.

What would they like to do next?

The garden would like to provide consultancy and training for other organisations supporting adults with mental health needs. “Other projects are realising that gardening is a fantastic way of supporting people in a holistic fashion,” says Tottle.

What can you do to help?

“We’re always keen for more volunteers,” says Tottle. “We’ve had times where it’s difficult to get enough volunteers to support what we need – we have a minimum of three people supporting each session. We also ask volunteers to commit for six months because the clients like to have some continuity, and to get to know the volunteers and grow to like them. It’s very disruptive if they come and go.” You could also help out by organising fundraising and profile-raising events for the garden: “We’re planning a ceilidh for later in the year, so anyone interested in helping to organise that would be greatly appreciated.” You can join the Friends of Sage network to receive a newsletter about the garden, and hear of more ways to get involved or help promote the work of the garden.

Can I set something like this up in my area?

To find a therapeutic horticulture project – or other ecotherapy activities – near you, see this directory on Mind’s website. Most will be happy to talk to you about how they set up.

Sam Challis, Information Manager at Mind, says: “We know that ecotherapy makes a huge difference to people with mental health problems – being active outdoors in green spaces has a positive impact on both physical and mental health. Horticultural projects such as SAGE Greenfingers in Sheffield are hugely important in helping people recover from a mental health problem or manage their symptoms; and also play a role in preventing people developing such problems in the first place. Independent research from the University of Essex found that seven out of 10 people using our Ecominds scheme saw their mental wellbeing increase. In parts of the country people face huge waiting times for talking therapies and GPs tell us they prescribe antidepressants owing to lack of alternatives. That’s why exploring other options is a great way forward, and we’d urge anyone experiencing a mental health problem to get involved with a local ecotherapy project.”

Thrive is the leading charity in the UK using gardening to bring about positive change for people living with disability, ill health, mental health or who are isolated, vulnerable or disadvantaged. You can find their practical guide to setting up a community gardening project for people affected by mental ill health here (pdf). Thrive also offer a range of services for those interested in social and therapeutic horticulture. You can read more about their training and education opportunities here or sign up to their newsletter here.

Growing Well is a long established, highly regarded community farm, where local people with mental health issues are included and supported. The Care Farm network as a whole is rapidly growing; they use green therapy to work with a wide spectrum of problems including mental health issues, drink and alcohol related problems.

‘We’re also willing to provide some support for people who are thinking of setting up something similar in their area,” says Tottle. “Just last week a man came up from Oxford who wanted to set up a therapeutic gardening space for refugees and asylum seekers. He visited us and spent the day with our support workers to see how we do things here.”

So far in this series …

1. The community supported farm

2. The bike repair co-operative

3. The community garden centre

4. The community forest

5. The meat-rearing collective

6. The owl conservation group

7. The neighbours’ community group

8. The beer-growing group

9. The Solar Schools project

10. The community clothes swap

11. The beekeeping group

12. The repair cafe

This article is part of the Live Better Community Project month. In September, we are showcasing 17 community projects from around the UK. On Wednesday 24 September, we will ask you to vote for your favourite project. The project with the most votes will be awarded £1,000 of funding, and two runners-up will each receive funding of £500. One voter chosen at random will receive £150 worth of gift vouchers for Nigel’s Eco Store. Terms and conditions here.

With thanks to: 10:10; FOE; Project Dirt; Neighbourly; UK Community Foundations; Groundwork; Business in the Community; Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens; the Prince’s Trust; Garden Organic; the Royal Horticultural Society; the RSPB; Keep Wales Tidy; The Wildlife Trusts; and Mind.

Interested in finding out more about how you can live better? Take a look at this month’s Live Better challenge here.

The Live Better Challenge is funded by Unilever; its focus is sustainable living. All content is editorially independent except for pieces labelled advertisement feature. Find out more here.