Since March 2014, Style Acre has been working in partnership to run the Wantage Market Garden with Sustainable Wantage and Wantage Day Service. Together, our service users, their support staff and volunteers have transformed a dilapidated area into a thriving garden, which produces flowers, vegetables and fruit. The garden gives adults with learning disabilities and autism an opportunity to enjoy the recreational and therapeutic benefits of gardening and to develop new skills. The garden is an attractive, quiet green space where people can relax and socialise. The people we support grow flowers and vegetables, some of this produce is taken home and eaten by the people we support and some is delivered to Style Acre’s tearoom, which provides work placements for the people we support.

We want to develop the programme of activities at the garden so that more people can participate. Style Acre supports people to live in 36 houses throughout Oxfordshire and we want to encourage the residents of the homes to become more involved in tending their own gardens.

Currently there are 26 regular users of the market garden from Style Acre and residents from a supported living house in Wantage visit weekly to water the plants. The garden has 10-15 regular volunteers and we welcome corporate volunteering teams through the year.  Sustainable Wantage organises courses e.g. with Incredible Edible Oxford, to encourage gardening in the local community.   A local Brownie pack has earned their gardening badge by growing seeds, planting out and harvesting them at the garden.  Together the partners have co-organised a Spring Festival, now into its 4th year, a family friendly event which attracts 200 people and where everyone, of all ages or ability, mix and enjoy crafts, music and the plants.

The need for expanding our Gardening Project                                                                                                      ‘Social and therapeutic horticulture is the process of using plants and gardens to improve physical and mental health, as well as communication and thinking skills.  It also uses the garden as a safe and secure place to develop someone’s ability to mix socially, make friends and learn practical skills that will help them be more independent.’ (Thrive, leading horticultural therapy charity).

Gardening is an established form of therapy to improve the health, well-being and inclusion of vulnerable people.  According to research carried out by Loughborough University, the benefits of therapeutic horticulture/gardening can include:

  • Better health through physical activity
  • Improved self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Improved social interaction and development of independence
  • The development of new skills – horticultural, social and work skills
  • Improved literacy and numeracy skills
  • Increased sense of general well-being and appreciating the outdoor environment
  • Can lead to employment or further training or education

Our experience at our Market Garden has shown the benefits to the people we support, we have seen the people we support benefit in the following ways:

  • Through growing and taking home healthy produce to cook and eat, the people we support are proud to share the produce with friends and family
  • Through delivering produce to Style Acre’s tearoom and using the produce in cooking groups, people are learning about the importance of fresh, local produce
  • Participants learn about ‘cause and effect’ – growing from seed and enjoying the end results
  • People develop new skills such as drilling and woodwork (by making bird boxes) and arts and crafts (through making Christmas wreaths, flower arranging and art days)
  • People we support are all learning gardening skills such as the correct use of tools, e.g. how to hoe effectively, propagation – how to sow, taking different types of cuttings, plant division, potting on, pricking out, planting out a range of different plants and learning about spacing
  • People develop their knowledge of plants – identifying common weeds and how to remove them and how to water effectively using hoses and watering cans, they also learn about how to harvest different fruit and vegetables eg picking and shelling peas and beans
  • People undertake physical activity such as digging – this helps people keep fit and learn to lift items safely.  The psychological benefits of physical activity can reduce anxiety
  • People with more severe disabilities or autism find the quiet, peaceful environment calming
  • Enjoyment of the outdoors –  carrying out tasks in the fresh air, working with nature and the seasons
  • We have seen increased self-esteem and confidence, increased motivation and concentration skills in many of our participants
  • We also see people making new friends with other gardeners and social interaction at events
  • People can experience working as part of a wider team, learning how to have certain responsibilities whilst respecting and supporting others

Jo was socially isolated before joining in activities at the garden. She struggled with concentration levels and motivation. After going to the garden for a few months, she gained confidence, as well as gardening skills. This was due to patient support staff and the welcoming environment at the garden. It gave her a focus and she now attends the garden regularly, and importantly, she has made friends outside of the care environment. She is proud of the flowers and vegetables she helps to grow, taking these home to her family gives her a sense of achievement.

Ray has been a core member of the garden team since the project began. In the past, he attended another garden project but left due to lack of one to one support available. Due to his autism, Ray can become stressed or over stimulated by too much noise, unexpected changes to routine and lack of clear communication by those around him. The garden project has given Ray the peaceful space he needs to thrive in. His verbal communication is slow, but it has steadily increased. Previously Ray would not be able to say what his needs were unless prompted. He now frequently finds ways to express himself such as taking someone’s arm to show them something, pointing and even more significantly he has on a few occasions called out unprompted eg ‘Sarah, come here.’ He enjoys the routine the garden offers, but also happily tries new activities, with increasing confidence. Other gardeners refer to his ‘green fingers’ – he’s a skilled and valued member of the team.

Future plans   Style Acre has been working at the market garden for nearly three years; we know there is demand among the people we support to attend sessions there. In addition to the 26 already attending, we have identified a further 20 who have either expressed a wish to attend or who our staff feel may benefit from participating at the garden. Further, we have several hobby groups that would become involved at the garden.  If we can provide a dedicated staff post, we can accommodate these additional individuals and groups. We estimate we will enable 50 people to participate at the market garden and the coordinator will also be able to support residents at our supported living houses during winter months when there is less demand at the market garden; this will be especially relevant to people with more complex and severe learning disabilities who are not be able to participate at the market garden. The Gardening Coordinator would plan the new garden spaces with the residents, advise and assist them to complete any work required and ensure the garden spaces can be used to their full potential in time for the summer months and could include the creation of vegetable plots, wildlife areas, sensory gardens or simple planting and seating projects.

We need to raise £21,386 to fully fund the salary and costs of a Garden Coordinator. Please support this campaign and click here.  Contact Philippa Stannard for further information.