Learning to thrive
13 February 2019 | Midlands
Charity uses horticultural therapy to change lives.
Thrive is a charity based in Birmingham that uses gardening to bring about positive changes to the physical and mental health of those living with disability, or who are disadvantaged or vulnerable in the community.
They help patients like Luke Hendon, who could hardly bear to touch soil let alone actually garden before he was helped by the charity. Struggling with severe learning difficulties, an extreme form of obsessive-compulsive disorder and newly diagnosed on the autistic spectrum, everyday things most of us take for granted don’t come easy for Luke, 35.
However, thanks to the ground-breaking programme of social and horticultural therapy, Luke has learnt to take instruction, handle change and even relax and have fun. Just a few hours in the garden has been scientifically proven to mimic the effects of exercise including lowering blood pressure and improving mood and self-esteem. And at Thrive, clients like Luke can also develop the ability to mix socially, make friends and learn practical skills. Those with mental ill health, people who have had strokes, or have dementia or face isolation are among those who regularly use the centre’s facilities. They even run programmes for women who have faced domestic violence.
Alex Bailey, Thrive Birmingham’s Client and Garden Manager, explained: “What we offer comes under the banner of ‘Green Care’. Clients like Luke will have their own dedicated horticultural therapist who will work with a small groups of up to five.
“We have 38 clients at the moment. But we have helped thousands of people ranging in age from 15 to 80. With Luke we have been able to improve his motor and sensory skills, his core balance and his interaction with others.”
She added: “The results we see can be amazing, I am very proud of what we achieve here with the help of all the staff and of course the volunteers.”
Luke’s mum Dot, said: “The last couple years he has really struggled and his OCD and anxiety started to take over. It was almost out of control and causing him a lot of damage both emotionally and in a practical sense as he would break things in his house. It was putting a real strain on his mental health.
“We desperately needed an outlet to help him overcome these issues and also help improve his fine motor skills. He already does plenty of sport, and that wasn’t enough to fill his day.
“Thrive offers this, and has really improved his quality of life, occupy his time and means he is not just sitting in front of the television all day.
“Luke has gone from refusing to touch soil, to handling it with gloves to now being happy to sift through it. He loves the vegetable garden and now can tell when fruit is ripe. And he has learnt to kneel without falling over which has helped his core balance.
“Luke is obsessed with cable ties, when he comes to us he tends to just tie everything up. But at Thrive they managed to get him to work with string.
“That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but to us that was a real breakthrough. It meant they had managed to get him to listen and accept there might be another way of doing things. He has also learnt to follow instruction and listen to other people’s points of view.
“On the social side, it also allows him to connect with others. He has speech and language difficulties but at Thrive he interacts with the volunteers and well as the youngsters with special needs who come to study there. I have seen such progress in him. And the main thing is that he just loves to go. That is so important for us.”