Bromley scheme transforms lives as well as green spaces

News: Branching Out - 1) The Branching Out group planting spring bulbs at the Whitehall Recreation Ground in Bromley

A fantastic opportunity has arisen for people with mental health needs in Bromley to get involved in horticultural activities including planting, gardening and conservation that can improve mental and physical wellbeing.

News: Branching Out - 2) Louisa Allen, Employment and Skills Manager at the Bromley Field Studies Centre

‘Branching Out’ is a two year scheme offering four six month horticultural courses to Bromley residents with mental health conditions. It was launched in June 2010 and runs to May 2012. It is funded by Ecominds, a grant programme run by mental health charity Mind as part of their Changing Spaces Programme. Delivery is through a partnership group: local mental health charities Community Options and Bromley Mind, London Borough of Bromley Field Studies Centre and Bromley Adult Education College.

Louisa Allen is Employment and Skills Manager at the Bromley Field Studies Centre which works with the long term unemployed to help them gain the skills they need to get back into employment. She worked closely with partner colleagues and consulted people with mental health issues who together designed Branching Out as a therapeutic programme to benefit local people.

People taking part in Branching Out are known as ‘volunteers’ and attend two days a week from 10.00am to 3.00pm. They receive professional training at the TrEE Centre at the Scadbury Nature Reserve in Chislehurst and get ‘hands on’ practical experience in local greens spaces in Bromley. There is an element of classroom based folder work, but as Louisa explains: “The practical physical activities are an important part of the course. This brings benefits to both their physical and mental wellbeing.”

Each course takes 13 volunteers and a total of 52 will learn about planting, conservation, green gardening techniques and will create seasonal displays and go on inspirational visits to key sites in the area. They will also learn about health and safety, customer services and team skills. The aim is for them to fulfill their potential and learn new skills that can help them enter the job market – with or without continued support.

The Bromley Field Studies Centre delivers the horticultural training and manages the green space improvement programmes but they rely on local partnerships for the successful running of Branching Out. Community Options leads the project while Bromley Mind provides support and outreach staff with mental health expertise. Bromley Adult Education College supports the quality standards that help participants work towards a City and Guilds Horticultural Level 1 qualification. And around 40 local Friends of Parks Groups will provide project and volunteer opportunities and work with the volunteers over two years on their placements in Bromley’s green spaces.

We went along to the Whitehall Recreational Ground in Bromley to meet the Branching Out volunteers and the ‘friends’ group they were assisting. Despite a chilly and wet November day, the volunteers were enthusiastically weeding beds and planting an impressive 1,000 Spring bulbs - each planted expertly at the correct depth from the surface and distance from its neighbours.

Keith was enthusiastic about the course. He said: “It gives me skills and qualifications. Gardening is natural – anyone can do it, and it’s something I’m succeeding in. After the course ends I would like to work in gardening.”

Greg was also happy about his experiences. He said: “I found out about Branching Out from the Job Club. I like the fresh air and seeing the plants growing. The social aspect is also good – I’ve made friends as well as learned about the seasons and how to grow plants. Growing a plant from seed is beautiful and I’d like a job in gardening.”

Jason is chair of the Friends Group involved with the Whitehall Recreation Ground. Set up in 2006, the group has around 100 members who in their spare time help to make the park a more inviting space for local people. He said: “I’m very impressed with how hard the Branching Out volunteers are working and how well they are planting the bulbs.”

Louisa says that the volunteers on the first course – which ends in December 2010 – have overachieved and are set to gain their qualifications, but she stresses that there’s more to it than that: “Sustainability is a big part of it – helping the volunteers to move on when the course finishes, for instance forming links with local friends groups that they can stay involved with in the future, and helping them to move towards employment. Each of them has a person-centred plan and sets their own targets throughout the programme. They will also each be sharing their experiences and knowledge gained on the course with a further 150 people with mental health needs in Bromley so that a total of 202 people will participate in the project. At the end of the project we will publish a book called ‘Branching Out Garden Recipes’ containing gardening tips and advice and the personal stories of our volunteers.”

To find out more and for bookings please contact Cheryl Evans on 020 8313 9725 or cheryle@community-options.org.uk

You can find out more information, photographs and blogs about Branching Out on the DevelopArts website.

Photo captions

  1. The Branching Out group planting spring bulbs at the Whitehall Recreation Ground in Bromley
  2. Louisa Allen, Employment and Skills Manager at the Bromley Field Studies Centre

Related information

Published on 3rd February 2011