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It would be difficult to argue with Grounded Ecotherapy’s description of itself as ‘one of London’s most unique horticultural therapy projects’. Part of Providence Row Housing Association – an organisation that helps those recovering from addiction or who have known homelessness – the project offers training and support while at the same time, improving our public spaces.
Grounded Ecotherapy was founded 12 years ago, by Paul Pulford and Kelvin Barton. At the time, Kelvin was a Mental Health Co-ordinator for Providence Row and Paul a former resident of its Hackney Road hostel. After seven years of living on the streets, Paul, with Kelvin’s help, rediscovered gardening, something he’d enjoyed as a child. His first project was the creation of a small garden in the hostel grounds.
Both Kelvin and Paul were aware of the benefits of horticulture for our physical and mental health. They also realised that social isolation is a very real problem for those with whom Providence Row Housing Association engages. They felt that encouraging people referred by support agencies to volunteer for horticultural projects would help to reduce that isolation. Offering a safe and welcoming environment and the opportunity to learn skills that are recognised and valued would help to integrate them back into the society from which they felt marginalised.
‘Anyone referred to us starts off as a volunteer’ explains Jaydee Anciro, Project Co-ordinator. ‘In time, some have enough experience to go on to work elsewhere, while one or two have joined the staff’. Kevin Fitzgerald, a member of staff who was once a volunteer, describes the satisfaction of watching people change as they learn new skills. ‘Over the weeks, I see people starting to take a real interest in what they’re doing. To start with, they just do what they’re told. But after a while they take the initiative and notice what needs doing’.
Grounded Ecotherapy maintain and improve many sites in London but perhaps the best known is the garden on top of London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall. With the help of the Eden Project, Grounded Ecotherapy built the Southbank Roof Garden and now has a contract for its maintenance. As Kevin points out with some pride, ‘it’s become a landmark’.
As Jaydee explains, ‘Our team of volunteers works on the roof garden for three days a week. We work with the “3 Ds” - deadheading, and looking for anything that is diseased or dying. As it’s a roof garden, watering is also another big job, especially this year as renovation work on the Queen Elizabeth Hall has reduced the water pressure’.
A vibrant mix of perennials, annuals, herbs and vegetables are grown in raised beds and even on a nearby staircase. Not only do they provide plenty of opportunities for learning about horticulture but they’re also a welcome haven for wildlife.
It takes a considered and well-run project to offer new skills to people rebuilding their lives while at the same time providing much needed improvement to our urban environment. In the case of the South Bank Roof Garden, it’s also a great place for the public to relax. Grounded Ecotherapy seems to provide something for everyone – that is indeed pretty unique.
There are many different kinds of gardens and landscapes that facilitate health and wellbeing. The network embraces all projects and examples ranging from hospices, hospitals, care homes, clinics, prisons, community gardens, cancer centres as well as nature based therapeutic work such as Ecopsychology and horticulture therapy. Landscape is taken in its broadest sense, embracing the natural and designed environment, highlighting its many relationships to human health and wellbeing.